Monday, December 1, 2008

Information Overload

I'm absurdly busy, have 3 pages of a paper on the Korea Gallery at the Museum of Natural History to write tonight, a twenty-minute presentation to prepare for Wednesday (which I can't start until I'm done with the paper, work, and class tomorrow). Do you ever wonder if our ancestors were this busy?

However, I am very excited to take a break to report that when I got home from my Thanksgiving break, I found 3 death certificates waiting for me in the mail. They belonged to Mary Madigan Mulcahy who died April 11, 1927, William Mulvaney, who died April 13, 1933, and Harold Mulvaney, who died August 26, 1933.

I'm having a little bit of trouble deciphering the handwriting on Mary Ann's and William's (Harold's is typed). I suppose I'm not overly interested in how Mary Ann died, though I'd like to know and will try to figure out what it says. Willie's and Harold's being the more mysterious deaths, of young men, I'm much more interested to know the circumstances thereof. It seems that Willie died of Encephalitis Lethargica, though my first reading of the word doesn't bring quite that. (It looks more like "encefihalitis" to me, but as far as I can tell, that is not something that exists.) According to his death certificate, its duration was "life." I did some cursory googling, and have yet to find anything that clearly states the symptoms of Encephalitis Lethargica and how it would affect young children, but it was not something you were born with, so I doubt it truly lasted for his entire life, though its onset may have been when he was quite young. It also doesn't seem to have affected intellect, but mostly behavior and muscle control, so I'd venture a guess that Willie's inability to speak at age 10, and inability to read and write at 20 were not the marks of a mental deficiency but of a physical or behavioral one that may have, among other things, prevented his attending school.

Harold died at Pier 5, Robbins Drydock, in the East River. He was 28 and had been a Machinist (like his father before him, we know). His cause of death drowning due to an accidental fall overboard. I've heard that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding Harold's death, and what might reinforce that here is that his death was recorded to have occurred at 12:30 AM. That would have been just after midnight. I can't imagine upfront circumstances that would have him at work on the pier in the middle of the night, but I also can't tell from the death certificate whether he died immediately or was possibly pulled from the water only to die some hours later, in which case he could have fallen overboard at 2 in the afternoon and died some 10 hours later at 12:30 AM. It is, I'd say, almost equally likely that, like so many, the good doctor who filled out the death certificate was confused about how AM and PM apply to the times around noon and midnight.

I'll try to transcribe the actual certificates when I get around to it, as well as dialogue about the effects the deaths and illnesses may have had on their (our) families and and try to decipher all of the remaining handwriting (I'm thinking Mary Ann's cause of death may read "pyelonephrosis" which is apparently "an obsolete term for any disease of the pelvis of the kidney"). First, though I've got papers to write! Wish me luck!

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