Baby Hester’s Death Certificate

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Sunday, May 24 – Thursday, May 28, 1914: Nothing much doing.

Hester baby death certificate 5 23 1914

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sometimes posts just write themselves. This is one of those times.

This is the  third of five days that Grandma lumped together into one diary entry. Her infant niece, the daughter of her sister Besse, died on May 23.

My readers are awesome. I owe Agnette a huge thank you for finding the death certificate for the baby. I’m still tingling with amazement that she took the time to search for it—and that she found it.

Sunday was a busy day—and I sat down to write the post for today at about 9 p.m. last night. I was unsure what to write—and then I glanced at the comments I’d recently received. There was Agnette’s comment and a link to the death certificate.

The death certificate affirms the information in the diary. I can’t quite make out the first listed cause of death—Does anyone have any ideas? –but was surprised that the second cause was Spina Bifida.

Grandma mentioned her sense of foreboding the day the infant was born—but did not indicate a serious congenial condition—and had seemed to think that the baby would be okay in the next diary entry. I’m surprised she didn’t mention something related to the Spina Bifida.

This makes me wonder if Besse’s first baby, who also died in infancy, had Spina Bifida. And, it makes me appreciate doctors’ recommendations today that women make sure that they get adequate amounts of folic acid prior to conception to help decrease the likelihood that the baby will have Spina Bifida.

The death certificate says that the baby was buried at River Church Cemetery. I wasn’t sure where it was—so I googled it. An Ancestry.com message board popped up. According the one of the comments on the message board:

The River Church is St. John’s Delaware Run Lutheran Church, located on Musser Lane, Watsontown. Because this is a rural area, it is actually closer to Dewart (about a mile) than Watsontown (about 2 1/2 miles).

I don’t know of any family connections to this church, but perhaps the Hesters’ attended it.

I’m still tingling—so many pieces of the puzzle are fitting together with this death certificate. Thanks again, Agnette!

59 Responses

  1. I think the first cause is cyanosis https://www.google.ca/#q=cyanosis I thought Helena’s niece lived for 3 days. This certificate seems to indicate she was born and died on May 23. What a find though Sheryl!
    Diana xo

    • Thank you for deciphering the word. Now that you say it, I can see that the first letter is a “c”.

      The death certificate includes contradictory information. It says that both the date of birth and date of death were May 23, 1914; however, it also says that the baby was 3 days old. Based on the diary, I think that the baby was 3 days old when she died, and that the date of birth was incorrect.

  2. I think that word is cyanoisis. The infant may have not had fully developed lungs. Or it could have had a heart defect like a hole in it’s heart. The doctor writes alot like my Aunt Mary did. It took me a couple of minutes looking at it and then it dawned on me those were s’s at the end.

    • Until I read the comments, I never heard of cyanoisis. It’s very helpful to have an idea what caused the baby’s difficulties.

      I’m glad that you were familiar with that handwriting style. I sure had difficulty reading the cause of death.

  3. Wow how amazing to find this information! Good for Agnette’s sleuthing. Cyanosis is in current health care used as a symptom, blueness of the skin/lips but at the time may have been used as a general diagnosis. Agree with the other comment that this could be related to heart or lungs.

  4. The certificate says she was born and passed on the same day, but it also says she was 3 days old. I guess accurate recording keeping was an issue 100 years ago too!

    As always, I am enthralled by these posts.

    • It is really confusing how there is inconsistent information on the death certificate. I suppose that it was filled out “on the fly” and the error somehow slipped by them.

  5. Agreed, I think it says cyanosis, also. I was about to write that and attach a link when I saw that several other people had beaten me to it.

    • Thank you (and the other readers) for deciphering cyanosis, and for providing information about it. I’ve heard the term “blue baby,” but I never knew the medical term for it

  6. What a find. I would suggest cyanosis as well.

  7. Funny to be so affected by a death so long ago but your posts, and the extra details like the death certificate, make it all seem real and close to home. Terribly sad.

    • Someone commented several days ago that time compresses when something like this happens. I believe that she was absolutely right. It is so terribly sad.

  8. Wow! That is so great Agnette tracked down the death certificate!! Somehow it makes it all seem even more real.

  9. Do you already have the death certificate for the first child who died? I have found it on Ancestry and can email it to you.

  10. What a nice story of help from Agnette.

  11. Sheryl, what a sad story but good sleuthing by your readers!!! Infant mortality was so high then and it’s interesting to see how it was dealt with.

  12. I can imagine how you feel! How wonderful that a big piece of the puzzle was contributed by Agnette~ the sharing of information is what I love about the internet, especially when it’s done in such a personal way. And that cemetery view is lovely–I do hope to make a drive into that area of PA on a future visit.

    • I agree–it is wonderful how people share information via the internet.

      It is a pretty area. I know that every time I drive there, the beautiful scenery that I see while en route makes me feel very peaceful and relaxed.

  13. This is so tinglingly amazing! What a great blogger friend.

    Say, does anyone out there know stuff about the history of Bethesda Lutheran Church in Forestville, Connecticut? I I know it was organized in 1880 and the church structure was dedicated in 1907 (which happened to be the year my father left his home town in Sweden). In 1947 it merged with another Lutheran church to build a new one called Gloria Dei Lutheran church. (Also in Forestville.)

    Today is a holiday, but I’m planning to call Gloria Dei tomorrow to see what they can tell me. Church was so important in my parents life ..!

    I apologize, Sheryl, for intruding on your space. I’m just so totally wrapped up in “My Father’s House,” the fictionalized biography of my father. And I know how thrilling it must have been to receive this certificate.

    • I hope that a reader can help you find the information that you need. I look forward to reading “My Father’s House.” Based on what you’ve written about it, it sounds like it should be a really fascinating book.

  14. How wonderful to have a reader find the death certificate ,,, bloggers create such great community!

    • You’re absolutely right–bloggers create a great community. I’m becoming more and more aware of how wonderful the community is as time passes.

  15. What a wonderful gift from Agnette! I can relate to that tingling feeling, Sheryl – it’s always a thrill to learn more about our families, even if the story is a sad one.

    • You’re absolutely right–there’s an odd mixture of sadness and pain as I learn more about the baby and the cause of her death, and happiness because I found the information.

  16. Such a sad thing to see… :(

  17. I wonder if the spina bifida was kept a secret at the time? I know in my family there was a baby born with unseparated fingers and toes who died shortly after birth and no one in her generation knew it until we found the death certificate. Deformities were considered very shameful by many at that time.

    • Maybe. . . I was really surprised when I saw the words spina bifida on the certificate. In many ways, it makes me feel sad that people often felt the need to keep things like this a secret back then.

  18. I think the first cause of death was cyanosis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyanosis

  19. I was curious about the cause of death. Thank you Agnette for providing the answer.

    • I agree–It was so wonderful of Agnette to take the time to find this and share it. I never expected to find the cause of death.

  20. This is such a find. I found an Aunt Myrtle and had her remains moved to the family plot. It is a gem and a blessing to find someone who was/is yours.
    Sheila

  21. Hi. A sad finding. Jane

  22. Incredible research confirms your grandma’s notes and makes this baby’s death so real to all of us even now, 100 years later. Also shows how much medicine has advanced as we can now save babies with many serious conditions.

    • I agree–as I’ve learned more about the baby, it feels very real. Sometimes I wish that I could put the baby into a time machine, so that she could benefit from modern medical advances.

  23. It’s amazing the information that is available!

  24. I am interested that although the baby lived three days she was “unnamed” as was the brother who died earlier. In many Asian cultures they don’t bother naming a baby until it has survived long enough to escape the usual infant and childhood diseases (up to three years). I had not thought that a Western child would have gone unnamed after three days but maybe they figured from the birth defects that the little girl would not live long.

    • I think that in the “old days” in the US that people often waited a couple days to name the baby–particularly if they thought that there was a chance that it might not live.

      I also think that in the days before ultrasound–when people didn’t know whether the baby would be a boy or girl–that parents sometimes didn’t decide upon a name until after the birth.

  25. The blogging community is full of wonderful people who go the extra mile for each other. What a blessing.

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