How do I find the cause of death for a Thomas Gordon Dickinson who died in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1908?

I have his French death certificate, but it does not state the cause of death, neither do the notices of his death in the local newspapers.

  • 2
    Hi Geoff and welcome to GFH! This is a good question and I hope the community here is able to help you get unstuck. Along those lines, would you be able to post the sources you currently do have related to Thomas' death? That way people trying to help you out won't go down paths you have already been.
    – fbrereto
    Nov 30, 2012 at 20:53
  • Likewise, Geoff, welcome. I don't have the answer, but wonder if you want to include a second part to your question. Specifically, could the missing "cause of death" actually "mean something" (relative to "cause of death").
    – GeneJ
    Dec 1, 2012 at 0:17
  • 1
    I think this question would benefit from the inclusion of some images showing the death certificate and/or death notices.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 27, 2016 at 1:26

4 Answers 4


As I alluded to in an earlier comment to the question, sometimes missing information is itself information.

What were the practices of the day?

  1. There were probably medical examiners instructions or requirements for death certificates in 1908. (We just need to find them.) These instructions may have provided the circumstance under which the cause of death could/should be left blank. [note 1]
  2. In the day, where there specific circumstances where autopsies were not preformed? Even when there might not be well recognized circumstance, families often have misgivings about the autopsy procedure. [note 2]
  3. What were the customs or regulations in place to promote the acceptance of death certificates. For example, funeral homes and/or cemetery authorities may have required a death certificate prior to rendering services. Life insurance companies require death certificates to qualify claims. [note 3]

I am reminded of something @TamuraJones once said along the lines of, "Mistakes/errors/omission aren't all bad; often provide helpful clues or stimulate curiosity."

Specific to your case, I'm wondering if you too have thought about curious anomalies that might further some rationale questioning where he actually died (vs where he had residence or even temporary residence at the time of his death).

See the RootsChat dialog about this same death by RootsChat user user Geoff of Brighton (only perhaps our Geoff) posts earlier this year ["Re: Cause of death in France"]; providing that

Thomas Gordon Dickinson, age 46, and died after a long illness (I have been informed) on 23 Oct. 1908. His Probate states that he died in the Hotel de Paris (no longer in existance, as far as I can see), whilst his French Death Certificate states that de died at No. 13, rue de Boston, which according to Google street view is a terraced house.

From the same thread (...Cause of death in France), "Geoff of Brighton" comments about Thomas Gordon Dickinson's burial at "Boulogne Cemetery," saying that that "Boulogne Cemetery were unable to confirm, or so they said."

So, we have several references and what seems and oddity in the death certificate (we don't have access to the digital image of the death certificate). Might this suggest that he died elsewhere? Is it possible that "Hotel de Paris" has been confused with a hotel at Boulogne-sur-Mer or the one at Boulogne, the Paris suburb (aka, at Boulogne-Billancourt). The graphic below are the maps provided at Wikipedia for Boulogne-sur-Mer and Paris.

enter image description here

Ancestry.com public tree user Colin Baynes profiles this Thomas Grodon Dickinson, reporting the death 23 Oct 1908 at Hotel de Paris, Boulogne, France. Cites "England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index 1837-1915" and England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1966." (I was not able to view either of those records.)

Is is possible he died at a Hotel de Paris at a completely different location? There is a Hotel de Paris at Monte Carlo that seems quite famous; it opened in 1863.

Update: Below are a few miscellaneous Internet pages that I reviewed in the process of working on the question. These may be of assistance to others:


  1. For example, see Center for Disease Control, "Instructions for Completing the Cause-of-Death Section of the Death Certificate," August 2004.
  2. In my personal family history, the earliest notice I have of an autopsy is in the late 1850s (Massachusetts). According to the "Encylopedia of Death and Dying" (deathreference.com), "Death registration was first required in the United Kingdom in 1874. Before then, it was not even necessary for a physician to view the corpse."
  3. Encylopedia of Death and Dying (above) provides for types of death certificates and says, "All are based on the international form agreed to in 1948 (modified for clarity in the United States in the 1990s). This form lists the immediate cause of death ... conditions that resulted in the immediate cause of death ... and other significant medical conditions ... The form also includes a place to record whether an autopsy was performed and the manner of death such as natural, accident, suicide, homicide, could not be determined, or pending investigation." See the source for the four authoritative references it provides, none of which are historical per se; all of which seem US centric.

Cause of death can sometimes be found in the funeral records of a church, burial records of a cemetery, or in a city death registry. If place of death was a hospital or other institution, records may exist. Not sure when autopsies became required for suspicious deaths, but check if the death certificate was signed by an attending physician or a city coroner. Some newspapers ran a weekly or monthly coroner's report.


Often overlooked are probate records. They on occasion have places of burial and or causes of death.


It appears that the French people do not put the cause of death on a death certificate. I am finding that out now, after my sister who lived in Paris for three years, passed away last month in her sleep. The French government have conducted an autopsy but it is their thing that they don't release any information about the cause of death. Even in the most routine cases such as death from natural causes in ordinary circumstance, there is no way to get an official confirmation of the medical cause of death. It could very well be the tradition back then in 1908.

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