Doing Family History in Victoria

I’ve written elsewhere about doing family history online, but that was using publicly available resources in Scotland.

This weekend the time came to see what could be done in Victoria.

A couple of years ago we took advantage of ANZAC day long weekend freebie to research J’s Australian grandfather, but there was always a mystery about her grandmother’s death.

After they married they moved to Australia, and while things looked to be on the up at first, by 1925 the marriage was in trouble, and J’s grandfather had ‘taken up with another woman’

The family legend was that at the start of summer 1925 – ie December in Australia, J’s grandmother had knocked on the door of a house in South Yarra to ask for a glass of water and then collapsed and died, and couldn’t be identified for days as her handbag had been stolen.

Well not quite true. A quick search of Trove for newspaper reports showed that indeed while she had collapsed and died, she had been identified within a day or so of her death, and there was no mention of foul play.

People in those days didn’t routinely have means of identification like driving licences and bank cards, so it’s perfectly understandable that it could take a little bit of time to identify the body, especially as J’s grandmother lived in Fitzroy.

The Argus helpfully reported that a post mortem had been held, but the results were not yet known. A few clicks and $24.30 later we had a copy of her death certificate, which gave the cause of death as Cardiac Syncope and Inanition . It also reported that a post mortem had been undertaken, and the name of the examining doctor, and that no inquest had been held.

That was a bit of blow.

Cardiac Syncope was often used in the nineteen twenties to describe sudden heart failure, but Inanition usually meant starvation – which seemed a little unlikely given that photographs we have taken the previous summer show a healthy young woman of normal weight who swam and pushed her children in a wheelbarrow.

The family legend was that she had a weak heart due to rheumatic fever as a child and that she always felt the cold, perhaps as a consequence, but photographs taken on a summer’s day in 1924/5 show no evidence of this.

As no inquest had been held, the postmortem records are long gone, and there is no way to assess whether or not she was seriously underweight. Perhaps the stress of her situation caused her to become what we would now describe as anorexic, or perhaps she simply died of a broken heart.

We’ll never know.

Our final bit of research was to use ‘Findagrave’ to find her burial plot location. It’s in the old cemetery in Carlton. Next time we’re in Melbourne we’ll take the tram out to Carlton and leave her some flowers …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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