Having spent the last eleven days in critical care with a seriously ill family member, I’ve had little to think about except beeping monitors, IV poles with various concoctions running, ventilators, and multiple hours in surgical waiting rooms praying that everything will be alright. Yes, it’s been a pretty bad time, but we’ve finally reached a point where discharge is in the not too distant future.
The illness and hospitalization brought to mind my elusive grandmother’s illness and eventual death. Previous posts have addressed the difficulty I’ve faced finding my father’s mother. I know her name and that she gave birth to my father in 1923; I know she was married to then divorced from my father’s father; I know she went to New York City when my father was a baby and worked for a newspaper; and I know that she was ill before she died and had health aids in her home taking care of her. I never knew my grandmother. I don’t know what diseases plagued her or what eventually led to her death.
So, how do I find more on my grandmother? In genealogy we work backwards from the present through the past. I know that death certificates can be obtained for a deceased relative. I could start with her death certificate – a document that tells the name of the person who died, what they died from, and what the parent’s names were. I already know the names of her parents. How much would I really learn from the death certificate? Do I need to know the cause of death? As a medical professional, I know that health history is generally restricted to the patient, parents, and siblings.
So, do I need to put out the money to order that death certificate or not? That’s a question I’ll ponder as I sit in the hospital and listen to the monitors beeping and setting off alarms.