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Family Tales

Published on Thu, 11/15/2012 - 03:53pm

A patron and I were working on her mother’s family. She told me the story of her great-uncle, who was killed by a train when he was 12 years old. The accident happened in Jackson County, Missouri, sometime in the 1920s. His name was Francis Bishop.

We easily found the death certificate. The volunteers at the Missouri State Archives have digitized over 2.2 million death certificates, ranging in dates from 1910 to 1961. The cause of death did not mention a train, and the doctor’s handwriting was difficult to read. All we could make out was "on the nose." I used Google Search to help us figure out the rest of the diagnosis. I typed in the letters we recognized and watched the suggestion list that came up. "Farumkl." No hits that looked medical. "Farunkl." I clicked on the word that looked likely, and when I scanned the websites, I knew I was on the right track. But it still didn’t lead to a train accident.

A "furuncle" is a boil. So, young Francis died from a boil on his nose. We laughed at the image that came to mind. But we sobered after I figured out the first word. I typed in the letters and watched the suggestion list. "Pyemia." There were several hits with medical sites, and I learned that the disease could be spelled many ways: pyemia, pynemia, pyaemia, pyanemia.

Pyanemia is a blood poison caused by staphylococcus. In the 1920s, before antibiotics, it was always fatal. Now that we knew how Francis really died, the unanswered question is, "Why did the family pass down the story that he was killed by a train?"

Angela M.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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