M is for….

28 October 2013

….Measles. Generally a children’s disease, measles often led to pneumonia and death before it was controlled in the twentieth century. The illness is unpleasant, but most children fully recover. However, some children develop serious complications.

It is a highly infectious illness caused by a virus. The virus lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of people with this infection. Physical contact, coughing and sneezing can spread the infection. In addition, infected droplets of mucus can remain active and contagious for around two hours. This means that the virus can live outside the body – for example, on surfaces and door handles.

Death certificates frequently highlight measles as a cause of death over the centuries since civil registration began in 1837. However, burial records are well-worth checking as well. These records are not frequently searched by family historians as in many cases they only state the name of the deceased and the date of burial, particularly prior to 1813. From 1813, the new, printed burial registers with headed columns make searching much easier although it should not go without mention that the ages are often unreliable, marital status and family relationships invariably omitted, which makes it difficult to positively identify ancestors.

However, sometimes the clergymen made their own rules about what they recorded in the parish registers, such as Reverend Thomas Patten, Vicar of Seasalter in Kent and Curate of Whitstable from 1712 until his death in 1764…. When Edward Tried and Mary Aeres married at Seasalter we learn that: ‘a bowl of Punch was made almost as big as the Caspian’ and another one of his gems was ‘Little Osiah Oakham and Sarah Slater, both of Seasalter, were married by License, September 27 1744. Sarah was his first wife’s sister… and now very pregnant.’

And then there are the genealogist’s ideal parish clerks and rectors who record additional information on the parish registers to build a bigger picture of the individuals within the parish. The Rector of Tetcott, Oliver Rouse, regularly recorded the cause of death, as well as other snippets about the deceased, in the burial register for the parish long before civil registration…. information which we would otherwise have no way of knowing.

Thanks, Oliver! August/September 1826 was clearly a time when the rural parish of Tetcott lost a few of the youngsters to measles.

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