Cause of Death: Septicemia and pneumonia from induced abortion

+12 votes
For years there has been a question over the cause of death of my grandmother at the age of 40 following the birth of my uncle.  There were many different answers proffered over the years.  Among them, (1)pneumonia, (2)erysipelas, or (3)a lingering debilitating illness brought on by the birth of her 4th child.  

Yesterday, I received a copy of my grandmother's 1925 death certificate in the mail from a cousin.

CAUSE OF DEATH: Primary: Induced abortion.  Probably criminal.  Contributory:  General septicemia with septic pneumonia.

I was thunder-struck.  There had been no discussion of that possibility with any of my cousins or aunts or uncles or parents.  Every one was certain of one of the three causes I listed above.

Now for my questions:  Do I copy this document and link it to her profile?  Do I state the cause of death in her profile?  In the US, abortion is one of the hottest political issues there is.  Do I include factual statements about the issue to provide context?  Do I include family history on the effect her death had on the family?
WikiTree profile: Lura Wilson
in Policy and Style by Peggy McMath G2G6 Mach 7 (71.6k points)
For your last two questions, I would say yes and yes. It may not be the prettiest part of your family history, but it is still part of it. If you don't provide an objective light on an it now, then it may come up in the future and you might not have any control over how it's handled.
Do I copy this document and link it to her profile?

Yes. It gives context to her life.

 Do I state the cause of death in her profile?

If you want to you can. It is not necessary.

Do I include factual statements about the issue to provide context?  Do I include family history on the effect her death had on the family?

I thnk that would be a great way to extend her legacy.
You should take the feelings of her living descendants into account.  I wouldn't put anything out publicly until talking to them.
Peggy, this is my opinion, It is not fact just an opinion so I hope I do not draw the ire of the (pretend) etiquette police. In  my honest opinion you said "probable criminal" We don't know this. Maybe it was a necessity for the mother's life and something went wrong. So please don't start to beat yourself up mentally over it. Second of all In my humble opinion, it is family over people's right to know. Family above everything. If you can, discuss it with her closest relatives and see how they feel before making anything public for 14 million people to see. Take your time. I know you will do what is best for your grandmother and her grandchildren. Trust yourself whatever your decision is.  If you change your mind later on you can always do that.
Jerry, I understood her post to say that it's the death certificate that says "probably criminal."  That's one of the reasons she's asking for advice on what to do.
Nan I accidentally flagged your comment. I unflagged it. Sorry. Please let me know if something is wrong. Anyway thank you for your explanation to me. Much appreciated.

I also understood it the way that you did but I mentioned not to dwell on it too much unless she is sure. Remember it is just my opinion.  I wasn't stating fact here. I would not like to see the woman  be wrong and regret herself. Besides it did not say why they think it is criminal. I think all abortions were illegal at that time. If the doctor did it to save her life may be criminal but maybe the better thing to do. The true reason was not given and in my humble opinion, nobody's business but the family's business. If you want more clarification on what I mean then please read my response to Anonymous. :)
The death certificate might not tell the true story.

A friend of mine (now deceased) told the story of her well-loved stepmother who died due to infection after carrying a fetus that had died in utero and that doctors refused to treat -- they waited for the dead fetus to be expelled naturally as a stillbirth, because medical intervention in that situation was regarded as an illegal abortion.

I agree about keeping this part of the profile private, but I believe documentation should be included in the family tree, and I love your idea of adding how her death affected the family since this kind of tragedy has obvious repercussions.  I have brick walls in my family tree ending at my grandparents because of the shame felt by some members of the family in talking about anything that might be considered "shady". Generations after yours deserve to have access to such details, and we need to rid ourselves of the element of any shame due to the reality that human lives are messy. This was a reality for many women of the time. I have a relative who died of malnutrition after her husband died and she lost her means of support (since they had moved across the country away from relatives who might otherwise have taken her in after his death.) It reminds us that news of the death of one's spouse did not instantaneously reach family members across the continent, and paints a picture of just how isolated people could be who were on the frontier. Family trees offer us a chance to grieve over the hardships our ancestors faced, and can affect how we choose to be in relationship with our present family now when we understand the consequences of our ancestor's choices. Abortion is not simply a "hot topic" but has a human face and your grandmother's story needs to be heard.

6 Answers

+15 votes
Best answer

Hi Peggy,

I'm for full disclosure, no matter how painful.   Since her closest living relatives are her grandchildren  (your cousins) sensitive to what they would want,  keep the profile private until you can get a feel for their reactions. 

I too have a VERY tricky profile to handle.   For now I've left it Private and posted the following comment  (which only I can read).

"This biography hasn't been written yet. Not due to a lack of interest but because some parts of Judy's life were very painful and unexpected. The author is searching for the perfect words that reflect Judy's gentle spirit."

She died in 1990.... your topic reminds me to finish this task.  Her living relatives (my cousins) are entirely behind disclosure too, because Silence is actually what caused the greatest harm.

From your questions , I think you'll create the perfect profile.

by Peggy McReynolds G2G6 Pilot (477k points)
selected by Pip Sheppard

Peggy got the news yesterday, so I doubt that other living family members have heard what the death certificate said yet.  I think it would be very important to keep grandma's profile Private with Public Family Tree to protect the living from distressing news, if information on the cause of grandma's death is posted.  

+9 votes
What do your cousins think? Of course, this is why it was legalized. This was not an uncommon cause of death. If your first cousins are a bit touchy on the subject I might leave it out. Any further removed than that and I would include it.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (556k points)
+8 votes

Dear Peggy, wow.  Tough call.  I am usually for full disclosure, but there are many living people that could be distressed with this one.  I think if I were you, I would post the text of the death certificate in the == Biography == section and mark her profile Private with Public Family Tree.  Then if others in the family want to know the truth, they will have to contact you for access to her Trusted List to see her biography section.  You can then prepare them for the truth.

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by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (660k points)
+8 votes
Absolutely not.  This is such a private matter, apart from the fact that other relatives may be deeply distressed at such a revelation.

Think also of grandma.  At the time of the procedure, this was a necessary secret (because of the criminal justice system).  It was also her secret.  Have you thought why none of your living relatives know about it?  Just because you can reveal the secret, doesn't mean you should. She was raised in a generation where you kept things private.

'Full disclosure' my left foot.  How about honouring her privacy?
by Ros Haywood G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
I fully agree.
I think Grandma would be rolling in her grave, as they say. I wouldn't want that on any profile of mine.
anonymous, That was the best way said. Thanks for your input. Not everything must be told. This is suppose to be fun.  In my family I have a murderer and 2 other horrible criminals, a suicide and a family of relatives that are grateful that I did not expose something sad that happened to a sibling. I appreciate your comment. It helps more than Peggy right now but she is the person that is the subject.
I don't think Grandma will know or care.  It's the living that matter now.  I would ask my cousins for their feelings on the matter and take that into consideration but this is more than just her personal history.  This is also the history of women and childbirth.  It's unfortunate that it has become so political.  I wish we could talk freely about this topic without fear of upsetting others.
In that case, what is the point of honouring a military veteran in your family?  They've passed.  They don't know you are honouring them (according to you). They don't care (according to you).

You can't have it both ways.
My Great-grandfather was a drunken wife-beater, I certainly am not going to broadcast that to the world. It feels best to honor the dead, not spill their juicy secrets.
Apples and oranges.  Grandma's death is a fact.  Being a military veteran is a fact.  Honoring someone's memory is an emotional thing. You honor the dead to show others that you loved and/or respected them.  Two different things.

The original poster needs to do what is best for her family.  If sharing facts is more important, than she should add it to her Grandma's profile.  If honoring her memory and/or respecting the feelings of her living cousins is more important, than she should leave it out.  Both decisions are equally valid.  I shared what I would do, just like everyone else that responded.
Please see my other comment.  If your great-grandfather is dead, it is only going to hurt living family if you post it.  If you choose to honor someone rather than share the facts about their life, that is your decision.  I have a pedophile in my family tree.  You won't find that information on his profile.  Not because I honor him but because the family members personally affected don't need to see it online. I respect their feelings and so I choose to not share it.  When I'm 82 and everyone affected is dead, I will put it on his profile.  He deserves no honor.
+4 votes

Philosophically, I agree that it was Grandma's business and WT should respect her privacy and the family's sensibilities.

Practically, I think you might want to deal with it before someone else does.  I looked at  how to get a death certificate from Washington state. 

They don't seem to put any restrictions on who can order one or when.  Grandma's cause of death seems to be public record, available to anyone willing to pay the fee for a copy of her death certificate.  If you put the certificate on her profile, you get the opportunity to present the facts in the most respectful (or least harmful) possible way.

I'd also like to point out that this thread is googlable, so you have already published the facts in some sense.

by Living Tardy G2G6 Pilot (776k points)
+3 votes
I mistakenly posted my answer as a comment to this post. Please forgive--I've posted in the correct place!
by Linda Gasparovic G2G3 (3.1k points)
I don't see it reposted.
I've reposted it again--thank you!

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