Tuesday 5 November 2013

Looking Next Door for Answers

Not every clerk or vicar was as diligent in recording notes in many of the old parish records; so, if answers are not readily apparent in one parish, sometimes it is useful to look at entries for the same time period in a nearby area.

Take, for example, the great many deaths of children in Plympton St. Mary parish between 1769 and 1773. Out of 195 burials, 69 were indicated as being infants or children. A first assumption might have been that an epidemic spread through the area, taking first the most vulnerable of residents – the very young!

1769 to 1770 Burials in Plympton St. Mary Parish, Devon County
Similar notes appear in the burial register for Plympton St. Maurice parish, next door, in the 1760s. Children always seemed to bear the brunt of whatever afflictions invaded the communities in the 18th century, but the latter part of 1766 witnessed an inordinate number of child deaths when, between  October  2nd and December 12th, 10 of 12 burials were children.

1766 Burials in Plympton St. Maurice Parish, Devon County
This kind of information suggests that some research would be warranted to find out if there had been an outbreak of contagious disease. And if health issues persisted over many years, might it even have caused a migration of people away from an area?

There was no cause of death given for the large number of deaths of children in either of Plympton St Mary or Plympton St. Maurice parishes in the mid-18th century; so was the answer to be found elsewhere?

In the neighbouring parish of Cornwood, there were, again, many deaths during the same period, many of them children and infants as well. Between 1770 and 1772, the local vicar recorded notes concerning the causes of death. So we can get an insight into what may have been happening in that community. The notes did not specifically refer to just children but of the 42 burials listed, 13 died of old age, four from consumption and nine from smallpox. At least two contagious diseases caused the deaths of over half of those buried in this small, rural community. Had similar outbreaks occurred in towns such as Plympton St. Maurice, no doubt the rates may have been much higher.

1771 to 1773 Burials in Cornwood Parish, Devon County
In this case, it helped to look in neighbouring areas for information to answer the question of cause of death. It is not totally definitive but the combined notes in all of the parish registers do give us an expanded picture of what was happening in the region over several years.

By the way, for other types of data, such as baptism and marriages, it is also useful to review records in next door parishes. Often a couple might have been married or had some or all of their children baptized in a parish near to where they actually lived and worked, possibly because one of both of them had originated there or because a vicar was out of town at the time they needed him. If you cannot find a marriage or the births of all of the children within a family, look in the records of a nearby area.

Burial images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO),  Images were downloaded from FindMyPast , or copied from my own microfiche of the parish registers.