We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.
Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.
Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”
Records Say the Darnedest Things
A place where people often go to get married is called a “Gretna Green.” A Gretna Green has far more marriages than is normal. Did you know there is a “Gretna Green,” a sort of elephant graveyard, for death?
This table shows the number of deaths found in Ancestry.com Public Member Trees for four places. The table compares numbers of deaths with current populations.
|London||4 million||8 million|
|Los Angeles||3 million||4 million|
|Paris||1 million||2 million|
What is this mysterious Y where so many people go to die?
Of course, every good genealogist knows that place names need to be complete so they aren’t ambiguous. Gratefully, some very helpful genealogy programs will expand the names for you, “fixing” the problem. Consider this descendent of a Norse god.
|Born: Europe |
|Born: Europe, Fayette, Georgia, United States |
Died: Y, Somme, Picardie, France
Deaths in Y are not limited to the descendents of Norse gods. Consider an early resident of Asia.
|Born: Asia |
|Born: Āsīā, Ghowr, Afghanistan |
Died: Y, Somme, Picardie, France
Abraham Lincoln’s son, William, died in Y, as have people from across the globe.
Fortunately, genealogists are the questioning type. Confronted with inexplicable deaths in Y, they start questioning why:
- “I have found that a number of my ancestors died in this small French village and I'm trying to find out more information about it aside from what's in Wikipedia. Why did so many end up there? The span goes from the 1100s-1800s and there are many surnames.”
- “Very strange to find we're all having this issue. Mine's not even telling me a date when they died, just that it was there.”
- “I've found that around 20 of my ancestors ranging from 1100 to about 1850 died in Y, Somme, Picardie. I know that it was held as a fief by the English, from around the mid 1200s to the mid 1300s, which may explain why so many English went there.”
- “Mine, Too! All my McGhee women in the early to mid-1800's moved from Pittsylvnia/Bedford area, VA. to this town in france. WHY???”
- “Now that [I] read all these notes from others, I am beginning to wonder if, perhaps, it was a "spa" or infirmary of some sort, where people went, who were seriously ill. It seems that everyone who went there, died there!?? Was their something going around in the mid-1800's in Virginia? My relatives were all women, English, born in VA. 1790-1830”
- “I also have a relative [that] someone on a family tree has listed as dying in Y, Somme, Picardie, France. I have not yet proved this to be true by finding a death certificate. Does anyone know how to find death certificates or registers for this area. Will they be written in French?”
- “And I thought it was just me who was crazy. Perhaps there was a foreign office to which members of my family were assigned during the 1700's, as they reappeared in NY a couple generations later. Or maybe it was just a great place to escape then, as it is now.”
- “I think it was a sanitarium for consumption patients. That is what they called Tuberculosis, back then. That is consistant with Lincoln's son's diagnosis, as well.”
- “I have come across a few different sources that show this as the location of vast military cemeteries going back ages - I don't know if this accounts for all of the hits we're getting, but certainly applies to some/most ...”
(You’ll be happy to know that this discussion gradually wound around to the real problem.)
Yes, records say the darnedest things…
Thank you, Desta Elliott, for suggesting this topic.