Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Research using Inquest Records

Research using Inquest Records

Whenever you visit a record office it is always worth checking if they hold any old surviving inquest records. The parish where your ancestors lived can hold valuable information on inquests not just from the deceased but also details of the jurymen, innkeepers (where often the inquest was held) or proprietors of other establishments.

There may also be witness statements recorded in the inquest record. So as you can see your ancestor could possibly turn up in an inquest – not necessarily the corpse!

When an inquest verdict results in the case being taken to trial due to a possible criminal act then follow this up with criminal records too. Although all the information recorded at the inquest will be repeated often additional information comes to light. Another important point to make is although the jury at the inquest may deliver a verdict this could be completely different at the criminal hearing.

A number of common Inquest Verdict Terms

  • Visitation of God – sudden deaths often unexplained or possibly heart attacks and strokes.
  • Mishap/Casual/Misfortune – usually used for an accidental death
  • Natural Causes/ Natural Death – a long standing illness such as cholera, TB, smallpox etc
  • Murder or Manslaughter
  • Justifiable Homicide- generally a self defence verdict
  • Suicide *see note below
  • Inclemency of the weather – exposure to the elements
  • Want of the Necessities of Life – usually referring to a death by starvation

When the jurors were unable to determine the cause of death at an inquest they passed an open verdict with terms like “Found Dead” or “Died from a fall from a Horse.

*Suicide – interesting facts
If a suicide verdict was returned the jury had to decide if the person was deemed sane at the time. Persons committing suicide who were classified as a lunatic strangely enough were allowed a full church rites burial in consecrated ground.

If they were deemed to have “all their faculties” however they were given the verdict of felo de se (self murder).

A felo de se until 1823 was buried at a crossroads and usually had a wooden stake driven into the body! Better to be insane!!
After 1823 they allowed a felo de se to be buried in a churchyard but only between the hours of 9pm and midnight and with no burial service conducted. Also until 1871 the Crown laid claim to all the suicide’s property which had to be forfeit.    

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