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Most death records have a place where 'cause of death' is recorded. I have recently discovered that a number of my relatives committed suicide. It was always acknowledged that they died, but never spoken aloud how it happened. Now, interviewing older members of the family, I am discovering the truth. Even the newspaper articles of the time did not name the true cause of death - only something like "...found dead at home," which could mean anything. So, is it crass to now record for future generations to see how someone died?

In some cases, this information is there if I link to the original source, but I also transcribe details into my genealogy software. Is this something that I should leave blank in my typed transcription, but (obviously) someone could find if they dug deep enough through my research and went to the original source? Or would that just create inconsistencies, since I find most causes of death rather interesting and do type them in.

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While I can understand the motivation behind the question, this is very close to seeking a poll of opinion rather than a reasoned answer. –  Fortiter Nov 4 '12 at 15:13
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up vote 22 down vote accepted

The GEDCOM standard includes Cause of Death, and it is included as a fact type in most major genealogy programs, such as Family Tree Maker, and online sites such as ancestry.com.

Therefore, I would say that it is not crass to record cause of death. It is just a fact. In many cases, future generations would want to know for insight into their own health history. Even a suicide can yield insight since it might indicate a family tendency toward depression.

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I would not regard it as crass to record such facts. Rather the opposite in fact - it would not honour their memories to ignore the sad fact of how they met their death.

What is a rather different question is whether you should make such information freely available while there is anyone alive who might be upset by these facts. If your software allows it, you might wish to consider marking up such a cause of death as "confidential" and this would give you the option to omit publishing the fact if the report were destined for general consumption.

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Most programs have a 'private' tag that excludes this information from reports. Be very careful about sharing (e.g. uploading a gedcom file to an online tree) the database file as this could contain the sensitive information. –  Sue Adams Nov 4 '12 at 11:58
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My software (FamilyHistorian) allows individual phrases within notes, etc, to be marked up for privacy, so that all the note (e.g.) with the Death tag goes into reports except for the marked up bits - assuming you've requested their exclusion. So that's another level of confidentiality, rather than excluding the whole tag. –  AdrianB38 Nov 4 '12 at 16:24
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