An important goal for every genealogist and family historian should be to take a scholarly approach to documenting the facts about ancestors with solid evidence. Family history is more than ‘collecting names’ or seeing how far ‘back’ in time you can go. I prefer an approach that allows me to know something about the character and lifestyles of the individuals and their families.
The research means seeking out documents that validate the assertions about my family members. Some of the obvious records that are helpful include civil registrations like birth, marriage and death registrations. Census records help you see the family as a group in a particular place at a particular moment in time. Local histories and newspaper articles can provide a window into an ancestor’s adventures and activities.
The cause of death recorded on death registrations for ancestral family members can be particularly useful in helping to see trends and patterns. Modern medical research tells us, after all, that we are at a higher risk for many diseases and ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. if there is a family history.
One ancestor that I hope to follow in medical condition is Catherine Graham (nee McRae), my maternal great-great grandmother. Catherine was born on December 20, 1822 in Glengarry County, Ontario (then Upper Canada). Catherine married Patrick Graham and together they had four children. The youngest, Margaret was the mother of my maternal grandfather, J. Graham O’Neill. Catherine died at the age of 84 on March 22, 1907 in her daughter Margaret’s home on Claremont Street in Toronto. The cause of death was clearly stated by the attending physician as “old age” which she had suffered from “for a few days.” So I hope to also die of old age and hope to so inflicted for only a few days!