The Last Few Weeks Were the Hardest

Yesterday’s Genealogy Tip of the Day was about the location of my great-grandfather’s death in 1934.

I first looked for it back in the 1980’s when online indexes were not available, state-wide indexes were not always readily available, and I was much younger and less experienced.

When asked, Grandma Neill had told me her father died “at home” in 1934 after a series of strokes had left him bedridden. Tucked away in Grandma’s Bible, his obituary made the same statement, indicating that he had died near his home in Loraine, Adams County, Illinois, after an extended illness. I contacted the vital records office, via mail, and they indicated they could not find any death certificate for George Trautvetter. Didn’t die here.

I’d seen the name spelled a variety of ways. I’d read stories of names being spelled wrong in records and heard stories of clerks who could not find the sun in the sky on a cloudless day. I assumed the certificate was there and they’d simply not found it.  And I already knew he was dead. I mentioned it to Grandma and she didn’t seem too concerned, didn’t seem too surprised, and moved on to some other topic. I thought it was slightly odd, but I already had his date of death and I knew already knew where he was buried. It was early in my research and I’d not yet been converted to the “get every piece of paper you can” point of view. I didn’t think much about it.

Several years later a microfiche index became available of Illinois deaths covering the time period when great-grandpa died. There he was. He had died in Jacksonville, Illinois. I obtained a copy of the death certificate. I suspected what had happened when I learned where he died and the copy of the certificate confirmed it. I wasn’t going to ask Grandma about it.

I knew that Grandma had “stayed home” to help her mother take care of her father after his first stroke. He was bedridden and needed constant care. It had to have taken a toll on them. Based on the death certificate, he had been admitted to the Jacksonville State Hospital a few weeks before he died. It had gotten to the point where they simply could not take care of him at home.

I never mentioned it to Grandma.

I knew the “truth,” but I also know that there probably was a reason that Grandma and the family had a slightly different version.

It’s not easy when a loved one is slowly dying at home a little bit every day. It’s not easy to see that they will never get better. It’s also not easy to admit that you have reached that point where you can no longer take care of them. Sometimes it’s viewed as shameful that you can’t take care of them. And it’s not easy when the closest place they can go is two counties away and you know that they will come back home in a pine box.

Having seen someone die, I have a little better understanding of Grandma’s perspective. I’m more understanding of why she didn’t want to tell me where he really died. Sometimes living gives us a broader perspective into our ancestor’s lives.

The next time someone tells you something that’s partially incorrect, there may be a reason. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating to deal with the incorrect information…but sometimes we need to have a little understanding.





7 thoughts on “The Last Few Weeks Were the Hardest

  1. After searching for “Jacksonville IL State Hospital,” it confirmed what I suspected. I recently completed an indexing project of deaths (1912-1935) at the insane asylum in my state. Many patients were admitted just shortly before their deaths. This was a time when there were few medical hospitals and no nursing homes for the elderly. The asylum was probably the last resort when families realized they could not care for their loved one at home.

    • I have another one who was admitted a short time before his death as well–that one came from a family with the money to pay for the care.

      The great-grandfather in question probably was put “on the county” as they used to say–where the county paid for the care. An additional factor in this case is that his father-in-law was in the same institution (and later another one) for a total of ten years.

  2. My 2nd great-grandfather’s obituary says he died out west while visiting his son and his body was being shipped home. In fact he died in the Kankakee State Hospital. He was committed there by the court after his wife petitioned for it. In his growing dementia, he had become belligerent and somewhat violent. A far different and sadder story than his obituary claims.

  3. What a beautiful post. Thank you for writing this. I’ve learned a lot about my grandfather’s thinking since doing genealogy research. He with held some information from his children when the records showed he knew things all along. My intuition tells me that he may have avoided topics that were heart breaking and that if my grand pa didn’t have some thing nice to say he wasn’t going to get into it. Just a guess on my part.

    • You are welcome–and thank you. Sometimes we (all of us, including me) can forget that certain topics may stir emotions for those who were actually intimately involved in them.

  4. A patient at the state hospital where all patients have a psychiatric or psychological disability passed away a few years ago. His obituary stated he died in another state, on the other side of the country!

  5. Kristy Gravlin says:

    My mother, born closer to the present than most grandparents was tricky to “follow”….there were things she would tell me, apparently assuming that she could trust me not to spread it around. My brother either wasn’t told (or perhaps didn’t listen well) and so our memories of what happened when to whom often differ.
    This can add confusion to the pot!

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