Thursday, May 5, 2016

It Appears the Mother Lied on the Death Certificate

I have chosen not to share the names of these family members for privacy reasons. The "he" in this post is related to me through marriage.

He was almost 38 years old when he died in 1917. The death certificate informant was his mother. He was listed as "single" and worked as a "shipping clerk." The cause of death was "paresis" which he had suffered with for "over 3" years.

His obituary tells a different story. It says he was "united in marriage to Miss M----" who still survived him. And, it states his direct cause of death as a "nervous breakdown." 

Of course, the death certificate could have mistakenly listed him as single, but most likely his mother lied. But, why? 

Death Certificate showing cause of death: Paresis
Today, I decided to see out more about his cause of death: paresis. Wikipedia has an entry called "general paresis of the insane." It fascinatingly, and disturbingly, tells the story of a horrible neuropsychiatric disorder. As the disease progresses, the symptoms that occur include: 
  • mental deterioration
  • personality changes
  • loss of social inhibitions
  • asocial behavior
  • impairment of judgment
  • mania
  • depression
  • delusions
Thankfully, this disease now has a cure and is only seen in third-world countries. The cure came after WWII in the form of penicillin. 

What causes this horrible disease? Syphilis. 

So, he had syphilis and suffered horribly for two to three years. He and his wife had only married a little over two years before his death. I wonder how long she watched him suffer? If she stayed with him, or left him as his symptoms worsened?  And why did his mother said he was "single" on his death certificate?

Just a few years later, in 1920, his wife was listed as a "widow" and lived with her parents in a different county. In 1930, she had two small children - ages 2 1/2 and 5 - and had been widowed for the second time. And, by 1936, she had been married and widowed for the third time. 

What a sad story for this young man; his wife who lost not one, but three, husbands; and his mother, who probably watched him suffer and die.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Wow, Pam. Thanks for the insight! And, I had no idea public toilet seats were made with an open front to prevent the spread of disease. Very interesting!

  2. Such a sad story. I actually came across that same disease on a death certificate a few weeks ago. I can't imagine how much they must have suffered.

    1. Yes, it is sad. I'm thankful that this disease, and so many others, can now be taken care of with antibiotics!

  3. In my previous post (which I deleted); what I didn't say by mentioning the government mandate about open front toilet seats, was that syphilis was easily spread through unsanitary public toilets so he may not have contracted the disease "the old fashioned way". Didn't your mother ever take you to a public restroom and say, "don't sit on the seat"? Maybe you're too young, but that was the reason why.

    1. Oh, yes, Pam. My mother was fanatical about us not sitting on the toilet seats - especially in gas stations when we were traveling! :) But, I did some research today on both WebMD & a 2015 New York Times article. Both say there has NEVER been any proof that anyone got an STD from a toilet seat. Interesting, huh? They said it probably got started as a rumor when men would have to explain to their wives (or girlfriends) that they didn't know where they got the STD... it must have been the toilet seat!

  4. Divorce carried a huge stigma for women. The old adage was to "stand by your man" (thus the country-western song). The wife would have been wise to leave but wait for his impending death so that she would not carry that stigma.

    Quite often, divorced women lost all their female friends because of the fear that their husbands might be attracted to a single (but not virginal) woman. People usually blamed the wife for not adhering to 'for better or worse' - never mind what the husband had been up to.

    Widowhood, on-the-other hand, allowed for a certain sympathy among other females that divorce did not. It was a man's world and women all bought into the 'Stepford' mentality. My mother was born in 1906 and was very much of that vein.

    1. I knew divorce used to carry a stigma, but I didn't think about the fact that "divorced women lost all their female friends because of the fear that their husbands might be attracted to a single (but not virginal) woman." Wow! The wife from this post moved back to the county she was from and lived with her family until she married again.

      On the other hand, I do have a divorce story that was in the papers quite a bit from this same time period. I haven't shared it yet... maybe I'll do that next.

      Thanks for all of your info, Pam!

  5. FWIW, Lyme disease can also cause neuropsychiatric symptoms, though usually less severe than syphilis.


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