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Old 04-03-24, 07:53
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Default Cause of death Q

Someone I know who isn't in to FH was telling me about their great-grandmother who she knew a lot about. She mentioned that her g-gm had a sister who never married.

Unusual name so I looked and of course there was a marriage. Said contact was very surprised and wanted to know more.

I will now bore you with part of the g-g-aunt's life story in case it makes any difference to the actual Q at the end!

The marriage was in 1893 in Northern Ireland. The bride was 28 and the groom 38 both prev unmarried. The groom was a solicitor and his father had died two months previously leaving him his business. Obit in several local papers about the father - pillar of the community etc etc.

In 1895 the groom writes his will - legacies to each of his sisters (I didn't know until today you can access wills on PRONI for free!) and everything remaining to his wife. He states that he and his wife are travelling to Italy and makes particular provision in case of their deaths together during this trip.

They made it back to Ireland and in 1897 he dies aged 42 in the local asylum. Cause of death 'general paralysis' - no time length given. The last time his name was mentioned in the press was about 14 months before he died when he appears in a list of people donating to a relief fund for refugees. When he died there's no death notice or anything else at all about him in the press.

On the 1901 census his widow was living with her sister and bro-in-law and their family. By 1911 she had vanished. As far as I know they had no children.

So..... when I first saw the death record I just assumed syphilis. But before I tell my contact that - could 'general paralysis' mean anything else or does the fact that he died in an asylum tip the balance? I would imagine if he had a bad stroke or similar he could have been nursed at home. Plus the lack of a death notice or obit etc seems 'suspicious'.

What do you think?
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Old 04-03-24, 08:13
ElizabethHerts ElizabethHerts is offline
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Merry, the following is an interesting read:

https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/...-fatal-disease

I would tell her that the cause of death might suggest syphilis and refer her to the article. I'm sure you were going to broach the subject tactfully in any case.
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Old 04-03-24, 08:19
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lol Yes!

Thanks for the link, Elizabeth. Very interesting article - makes me wonder if he really did go to Italy!! I will definitely pass the link on to my contact.
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Old 04-03-24, 09:57
Olde Crone Olde Crone is online now
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My initial response was yes, he died of syphilis and the asylum clinches it. However, my understanding of GPI is that it takes many years or even decades, so this seems a bit quick to be functioning as a solicitor and donating to charity, then admission to an asylum and death in a relatively short time. I don't doubt the syphilis but maybe there was a bit more to the death than that?

In my extended family, a cousin of my grandfather came back from WW1 with severe shellshock. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum. His widow told everyone, including his children, that he was dead, such was the social shame of mental illness. So a fictitious trip to Italy seems small fry to me and perhaps your man "died" out there?

OC
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Old 04-03-24, 09:59
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Margaret in Burton Margaret in Burton is offline
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One of my GG Grandfathers died of general paralysis and I’ve always assumed it was syphilis
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Old 04-03-24, 12:10
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Anstey Nomad Anstey Nomad is online now
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Not another rabbit hole!

I'd always understood that GPI was the long term, and incurable, effect of syphilitic infection.

There's loads online and it does refer to 19th century GPs not having the knowledge to diagnose syphilis in its very early stages, which is when you need to diagnose it even now, and then not having effective means to treat it anyway. It may therefore be that he was either infected or actually unwell for some time without the cause being clear and when it was, it was too late.

Presumably also, he will have passed the infection on to his wife, who will have inevitably met an undignified end herself in time.

Can you direct your enquirer to the Martin Freeman episode of WDYTYA? There was a lot about it in there.
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Old 04-03-24, 12:41
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Thanks all.

OC, having studied the papers more closely his last court case was exactly a year before his death and presumably after the Italy trip, assuming they went. It seems you could die quite quickly after symptoms became obvious - one site says "Many patients faced a bleak prognosis, with some dying within months, weeks, or even days of admission to medical care".

AN, his wife is another issue - she remarried about 20 years after his death to a younger man (15 years her junior) and they remained together until her death at 83. He lived until he was about 90. So.... this is another set of reasons leading me to wonder if the first husband did have syphilis.
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Old 04-03-24, 13:08
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OH's great grandfather had general paralysis of the insane diagnosed when arrested for embezzlement ended up being certified insane while imprisoned and was sent to Broadmoor, where he died 5 years later. His letters home show how his handwriting deteriorated and there came a point where his letters were written for him. His actual cause of death though was a rapid decline after breaking his thigh.
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Old 04-03-24, 14:37
Olde Crone Olde Crone is online now
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Admittedly my knowledge of syphilis is based entirely on furtive reading in the medical library at UCH where I briefly worked as a temp in the 1960s, lol - caught redhanded by the consultant who proceeded to give me such a terrifying lecture on syphilis that I almost took the veil.

OC
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Old 04-03-24, 22:08
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Haha!!
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