Sunday, 19 April 2015

"To burial of a stillborn child"

Many years ago as I was lifting quarterly death indexes from the shelving at the Kingsway annex to the Birth Marriage and Deaths I was struck by the difficulty of knowing whether the Male age 0 entries for a surname (and female age 0 ) would be capable of resolving as part of a family. The cost of death certificates and the possibility of a child with the same surname  wholly unrelated could be a proverbial "brickwall" to completing all children born to parents. As one of those genealogists who carried out certificate searches in the galleries at Somerset House you may gather I have been around a long time and as the only surviving child to be registered at birth I feel personally on the pain of parents and siblings  knowing what became of those infants who died in pregnancy or at full term.
Before I write about the registration requirements for "Late Miscarriages" and full term stillbirths let me offer another record source to the conventional which has changed my thoughts on nineteenth century registration.
This year I have been transcribing the funeral account books of Dunn who from 1803 arranged funerals from their premises in Market Square Bromley. These accounts are available at Bromley Archives and are an example of the value of exploring archives. It is possible throughout the year range of these accounts to identify children who were still born as the title of this blog indicates a typical entry;some go on to detail the coffin and place of burial both in Bromley churchyard or later in the Bromley Burial Board Cemetery (or in other parishes or cemeteries). Since the account is to be paid the father's surname is included!
The Dunn accounts are lost for a significant volume of post 1837 registration (in one of the various fires at their premises). However the survivals indicate that after initial years of registration compliance difficulties were overcome that the Funeral account still births are located in the Bromley registration district several by name offered by bereaved parent on registration or by gender aged 0. As I have progressed to accounts in the 1870's there is reassuring evidence that both records can help to identify still birth in a family.
If a still birth was before 1992 and before 28 weeks of completed pregnancy sadly it is unlikely that there is any record of the child. My twin sister was delivered at full term and there is no evidence of burial or cremation. My parents were told that the hospital would arrange for disposal of her body and there is no record of her at the local registration district or local cemetery or Crematoria service.
Which is why the records of funeral directors can be so valuable to an archive or researcher. It seems that post 1948 parents bereaved could often be told that hospitals had arrangements and parents were disempowered in the process. It is possible that a hospital had an arrangement for group burial or cremation in which case a record should exist but this was not the case in my own family in the case of my other siblings.
Since the 1980's parents were consulted about arrangments for the funeral and this lead to a change in 1992 to require Cemeteries and crematoria to record as still born children who died after 24 weeks gestation. Cemeteries and cramatoria have been required to keeps records of still born children and those who die after birth but they came into existence usually in the late nineteenth century so surviving funeral accounts are very valuable.
Hospital records do not always detail nor are they kept long enough to be of practical help;hospital closures have also lead to loss of records. Funeral Directors similarly have ceased to be local family run businesses and on takeover by large companies did not always keep or deposit their records in a local archive.
If you are attempting the emotional task of trying to find what became of your child or sibling I can recommend the practical help of Stillbirth and neonatal death charity (SANDS) and the support line. It is comforting to me to know that The SANDS garden at the National Arboretum and services held annually are for my family even though I have been unable to locate my siblings through record sources.