Monday, December 01, 2014

Mystery Monday: Gaston Desgroseilliers’ Cause of Death

Death registration of Gaston Desgroseilliers
Gaston Desgroseilliers' death registration (1941)

Last year, I wrote about the short life of my mother’s younger brother Gaston and how he died following a car accident in May 1941 in Wednesday’s Child: Gaston Desgroseilliers, A Brief Life.

This past May, I went to the Archives of Ontario (AO), located in the provincial capital of Toronto, and viewed Gaston’s death registration on microfilm. [1]

You might ask yourself why bother seeing the registration when I had already knew the cause of death?

I wanted to see the death registration for two important reasons:

  1. My mother and her sisters always maintained that their little brother died after falling out of a moving car, not from pneumonia, as reported by the Cemetery Records department of the Town of Parry Sound. [2]
  2. I wanted my own copy of the (original) death registration.

Sitting at the microfilm reader in the Rotunda at AO, I was getting a bit anxious while scrolling through the film to locate the image I needed. (I was hoping that it would disclose the ‘right’ cause of death.) Finally, I got to the image I needed on roll 670. There was the cause of death: “Acute lung trouble or type of [pneunionea]”. [3]

Disappointed, I looked at the rest of the information and saw that “Jury’s Verdict” was written below the cause of death. I also noticed that the document was signed by S. B. Biehn, Coroner/M.D.

I was puzzled. What did “Jury’s Verdict” mean? Why would a jury be involved when someone dies in a hospital, like it said in the field “Place of Death”? And why would a coroner/M.D. sign the record?

While my husband made a digital copy of the registration on a USB memory stick, I went to the nearby reference desk. I wanted to know if the Archives had any coroners’ records. I was directed to their computer database, but I didn’t find any listings for the Parry Sound District, where Gaston’s death occurred.

When it was time to go, Michael and I signed ourselves out. (You have to sign in and sign out when you arrive and leave at AO.) As I wrote my name, the clerk asked if I had found everything I needed. I explained that I had, mostly, but that I didn’t find the coroners’ records I wanted. She asked for my name and contact number, and said that she would pass my concern on to an archivist.

Later that day, while my husband was negotiating rush hour traffic in Toronto, my cell phone rang. It was an AO archivist getting back to me. She explained that while the Archives did have some coroners’ records, it didn’t have them all (like Parry Sound District), because some records were lost or destroyed before a “records management program” was established in the 1960s. It wasn’t what I had hoped to hear, but thanked her for such a prompt reply.

So, at the end of the day, I’m still left with questions:

  • Was Gaston’s accident and subsequent death reported in a local newspaper?
  • What exactly is “acute lung trouble or type of [pneumonia]” and would it be caused after a fall from a moving vehicle?
  • Was a physician present when Gaston died in the hospital, and if so, why did he not sign the death registration? (The coroner stated on the form that he “did not attend” the deceased.)
  • It looks like there are four different handwritings on the registration form; why so many?*
  • Do Gaston’s hospital records still exist, and if so, are they accessible to a family member?
  • Why was a coroner’s jury involved? Who or what determines the need for an inquest?
  • Why did the coroner sign and date the registration four days after Gaston’s death? Did he wait for the jury to return its verdict?
  • If coroners’ records for Parry Sound District didn’t get transferred to the provincial archives, might they still exist at the municipal or district level?

* In the “Medical Certificate of Death” portion of the form (on the right side), it looks like the handwriting of the coroner, S. B. Biehn. I suspect that it’s my grandfather Eugène’s handwriting I see on the left side of the record, as well as at the top where it says “Place of Death” and “Residence”. Just below it, where it says “Name of Deceased”, the writing seems to be by another person. Finally, at the very right hand bottom, it looks like the Division Registrar signed his name and dated the form.


1. Gaston Desgrosseiliers [sic] death registration no. 028984 (1941); Ontario Registrations of Death, 1869–; microfilm MS 935, roll 670, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

2. Corporation of the Town of Parry Sound (Parry Sound, Ontario), Cemetery Records, to Yvonne Belair, letter, 25 February 1987, providing administrative record for Gaston Desgroseilliers, Single Grave S, in the South ½ [S ½] of Lot 14, Block L, Hillcrest Cemetery.

3. Gaston Desgrosseiliers [sic] death registration no. 028984 (1941); Ontario Registrations of Death, 1869–.

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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