Today I decided to try my luck with FamilySearch Labs latest offering, Philadelphia City Death Certificates 1803-1915. There isn’t much available online for Philadelphia, especially post-1900 when my families were living here, so I was pleased I’d at least have a few years worth of records to search. I entered in the usual surnames, and I quickly found death certificates for siblings of both of my grandmothers.
In the Bergmeister family, there were five children. The first four were all born within 2-4 years of each other, but the gap between my grandmother, Margaret, and her next oldest brother, Julius, was 6 years. I found death records for two children born in between Julius in 1907 and Margaret in 1913. The first was a boy, Charles, who lived for 15 hours on 17 July 1909 and was listed as a premature birth. A sister, Laura, was also born premature on 05 November 1911 and died the same day.
The Zawodny family had six children, and again there is about 2 years between each child until a 5 year gap between my grandmother’s siblings Kazimierz (known as Charley) in 1911 and Zofia (known as Dorothy) in 1916. My grandmother used to say that she had two brothers who died as infants, and I confirmed that with the records. Bolesław was born on 04 August 1912 and died six months later on 08 March 1913. The cause of death is listed as acute gastroenteritis, although my grandmother seemed to remember her father slipping on an icy sidewalk while holding the baby, who then fell and died later of a head injury. Another son, Władysław, was born on 18 January 1914. He died just over a year later on 27 March 1915. This time the cause of death coincided with my grandmother’s memory. He developed infections in his mouth caused by his teeth not developing and growing properly. My grandmother called the boys William and Walter, which roughly correspond to common English names used for those Polish names.
I’ve looked at many records in my genealogical research, and I’ve seen numerous deaths of babies in those records, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. But these four records were different, and I was saddened to view them. These children’s deaths were closer to me because they would have been my grandmothers’ siblings, my parents’ aunt and uncles. How difficult it must have been for my great-grandparents to suffer these losses. In both cases, the children died one after the other. Also in both cases, each family then had one more child, a girl in both cases. The next generations would occasionally have miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths, so living in “modern” times is no guarantee of a healthy baby. But I’m glad I found these records so their very short lives are not forgotten.
FamilySearch Labs appears to be a wonderful site. It is easy to use, and the records were mostly transcribed correctly (my one great-grandmother’s maiden name was incorrect both times). Another benefit is that it is FREE for all to use. For folks that can’t afford Ancestry, this is a good alternative for a small group of records. My only complaint is that there aren’t enough records available yet! If enough genealogists volunteer to transcribe records, this could truly be the future of online genealogy. I’m very excited to see that another project in the works is Philadelphia Marriage Records from 1916-1951 – I’m sure this will help me fill in even more gaps on my tree. If you’ve tried this site and had success filling in your family’s gaps, be sure to leave a comment.