Dead but not forgotten

Dead but not forgotten

Obituaries from the 1800s reveal a diverse set of individuals

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist


As family history researchers we want to discover as much about our ancestors as possible. We will usually consult as wide a range of records as we possibly can in order to do this. Our motivation is often an interest in finding dates of vital events such as births, marriages and deaths and any information that can reveal to us other aspects of their lives.

One such valuable resource that we can search in our quest are obituaries. These can provide us with the dates not only of the deaths of individuals included but usually their birth dates or ages. Some obituary records may tell us even more about the individual providing us with useful occupation details and who their family was. Obituaries often cite their sources, for example a newspaper page, edition etc., all of which can be helpful for the family historian in carrying out further research into their ancestor.

The recent additions to this record collection at TheGenealogist has provided us with a number of interesting new records from the 1800s including several Quaker records. These, known as the Annual Monitor or Obituary of the Members of the Society of Friends, are for the years 1880, 1882 and 1885 and apart from many names and dates also include some expanded “memoirs” recounting anecdotes about some of the individuals and their families.

Another set of new records joining this category online recently has a more general slant. With the inclusion of all sorts of persons compiled from obituaries from 1800 and before, the manuscripts from which these were put together were from the British Museum and are generally known by the name of “Musgrave’s Obituary”. Named after Sir William Musgrave, who had originally compiled the slips or extracts taken from various works, these had been neatly written and then pasted into books in fairly good alphabetical order. In 1899 onwards these manuscripts were then published by The Harleian Society and have now been digitised by TheGenealogist.

Additionally, various Index Society Publications for 1880-1882 have been added into TheGenealogist’s Obituaries so that approximately 20,000 names can easily be searched by name and keywords.

Executed for Treason

Browsing one of the recently added Musgrave’s Volume 1 we came across Captain John Bruce, executed for Treason at Lancaster 2 October 1716. Intrigued, some further research discovers that Captain Bruce’s crime was for his allegiance to “The Old Pretender” James Francis Edward Stuart, (1688-1766). Before his punishment was carried out he delivered a paper in which he reaffirmed his loyalty to King James III, remarking that he was “not ashamed for that Cause for which I die; but rejoice that I am worthy to be a Sacrifice, in the Vindication of the undoubted Right of my Lawful and Natural Liege Lord King James the Third, and the Expiring Liberties of my dear Country.”

Capt. John Bruce in Musgrave’s Obituary Vol I
Capt. John Bruce in Musgrave’s Obituary Vol I

Casting an eye over the various occupations found in these records we note many military men such as, Captains in the Navy or Colonels in the Guards, Lords, medics, schoolmasters, merchants and clergy. But there are also some tavern keepers, ironmongers, bit-makers to the Royal Stables.

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Mrs Cross, the famous novelist

The author Mary Ann Cross
The author Mary Ann Cross

It is not only males that feature as some wives and daughters of eminent men are also recorded, as are those who are distinguished in their own right. One such woman was Mrs Mary Ann Cross. Having been born as Mary Ann Evans, she then lived as Mrs Mary Ann Lewes, though not married to the man whose surname she had taken as he was still married to another. On 16th May 1880, eighteen months after Lewes’ death, Eliot married John Walter Cross and so changed her surname to Cross. Sadly, at the end of that year, her death was recorded on 22nd December 1880 at the age of 61.

In the obituary that we can access at TheGenealogist her better known pen name is given prominence in her entry. Mary Ann was, as many readers will be aware, the author George Eliot, writer of such classics as Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner and her most acclaimed novel, Middlemarch.

The entry for Mary Ann Cross “George Eliot” reveals her birth place as Griff, near Nuneaton on November 22, 1820 and her death at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea on the 22nd December of 1880. The sources cited in her obituary include the Times in London and other publications such as the Academy, Athenаeum, New York World, New York Daily Tribune and New York Daily Times.

“George Eliot” in the Obituary Notices for the year 1880 on TheGenealogist
“George Eliot” in the Obituary Notices for the year 1880 on TheGenealogist

First Public Flushing Toilet

George Jennings is another person who can be searched for in these latest obituary records. We learn from his entry that he was born in the New Forest, Hampshire on the 10th November 1810 and died April 17th in the year that the obituary was published (1882). George’s entry is found sandwiched between a Solicitor and a Professor of Political Economy and he is a Sanitary Engineer.

His great claim to fame, some extra research uncovered, was that at the Great Exhibition in 1851 he had wowed the public with his “Monkey Closets” installed in the Retiring Rooms. These were the first public flushing toilets and visitors to them were charged a penny to use and thus the phrase “to spend a penny” entered the English vocabulary.

Further research unearths that he died as a result of an accident he had when his horse drawn gig hit a dustcart on Albert Bridge. Travelling with his son, George Jennings was thrown from the gig and fractured his collarbone. Recovering at home under the care of several doctors, he was making progress until, against medical advice, he got up on the Sunday after the accident. Congestion of the lungs set in and by the Monday evening he had passed away.

Inventor of the first public flushing toilets, George Jennings obituary
Inventor of the first public flushing toilets, George Jennings obituary

With its ever expanding numbers of record sets, TheGenealogist is a must for family historians wanting to discover new details about their ancestors’ past. With the recent addition of a collection of obituaries on this genealogy website researchers can search for individuals and discover useful information that may fill in gaps in their family history, or the obituary could provide clues pointing where to concentrate on in further research.




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