Monday, February 4, 2008

I See Dead People

Here is another cool resource from the Washington State Digital Archives--a lot of Death Records for Washington counties. Once you find a record you can pull up a high quality scan of the death certificate. Pictured below is Spokane Garry's death certificate, which is a sad little story of the chief's last days. The certificate lists his age as 84 and his place of death as Hangman Creek. Like many Indians pushed out of the city as it grew, Garry lived in the valleys and ravines on the outskirts of Spokane. The date of his death was January 14th, 1892 and the cause "congestion of lungs." It is easy to read the certificate and think of Garry broken and cold, shivering in his tepee as his lungs slowly filled with fluid. (Apparently I cannot link directly to the certificate, but if you search Spokane county for the last name Garry it is the only result.)

Each and every certificate tells a story, not a few of them sad. A. J. Smith, a 53 year old black man who worked as a plasterer, died of pneumonia in 1903. He was born in Indiana in 1850--a free man--but his father came from Kentucky. Had the elder Smith escaped from bondage on the Underground Railroad? A man listed as only "Jim (a Chinaman)" was 44 and single when he died of illegible causes (pluttusis?) at the Eastern Washington Hospital for the Insane. His occupation was listed as "day laborer." Whereas Iwojiro Akamatsu was born in Japan and died in Kootenai Idaho in 1905 in an unspecified "railroad accident."

I think these would be a wonderful teaching resource! Stay with me here--what do kids love? That is right, kids love dead people. And mysteries. A teacher could quickly print off a passel of these certificates and hand them out in class, asking each student to pretend that they are the dead person and tell the class about their life--and death.


Mary @ WSL said...

Yes! Connecting kids to real stories is a great way to get them interested in historical research. Check out how UW History Librarian Theresa Murdock teaches historical research methods:

AHA Perspectives article


Game of Research syllabus

Kathryn @ wsl said...

The cause of death, as I read it, looks like "pneumonia."

Larry Cebula said...

Mary: Great links! Thanks for pointing them out, I will come back to Murdock's article the next time I am slated to do the methods class.

Kathryn: The second certificate I posted is for A. J. Smith the plasterer, and he did indeed die of pneumonia. To get to Chinese Jim's certificate go the the Spokane Death Returns and search for first name Jim. (It annoys me to no end that one cannot direct link to documents at the Washington Digital Archives.)