Tag Archives: mortality

He Ate Himself to Death

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A few years ago, my daughter and I were in the dentist’s waiting room, waiting for my son to be done with his appointment. Since the kids had back-to-back appointments, I had some time on my hands. I brought along my laptop and was abstracting mortality schedules for my  genealogy society. (Because it’s perfectly normal to abstract mortality schedules while waiting at the dentist’s office.)

1850 mortality schedule, Logan County, Ohio. Downloaded from Ancestry.

1850 mortality schedule, Logan County, Ohio. Downloaded from Ancestry.

My daughter was curious what I was working on. I explained that the mortality schedule was taken with some censuses and that it was a basically a death record. She looked through the entries as I continued typing. Suddenly, she sat up straight and exclaimed:

“He ate himself to death?!”

I gave her that look that only a parent can give. You know — the one where you don’t want to stifle their curiosity, but you have no earthly idea what your child is talking about.

I was also thankful that there was nobody else in the waiting room.

“Who ate himself to death?”

“That man there. It says he died of consumption.”

That’s my daughter. The one who has always been excellent at using context clues to figure out unfamiliar words.

I smiled and explained that “consumption” was what they used to call tuberculosis. I’m not sure if she was relieved or disappointed.

My son walked into the waiting room just after that, proud that he had no cavities. I was happy that we could leave before I’d have to explain what “bad blood” was.

Decent Enough to Die in a Timely Manner: William H. Skinner (52 Ancestors #15)

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If there is a genealogical corollary to Murphy’s Law, it might be that the ancestor you’re looking for died one year before that state started keeping death records. (Raise your hand if that’s happened to you!) It happens so often, that I’d like to give a special “Thank you” to my 3rd-great-grandfather William H. Skinner for dying at the right time.

William was a farmer in Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. He was born in 1809 in either Ohio or Pennsylvania (depending on which record you want to believe). He died in Reading Township 3 May 1850.

Ohio didn’t start keeping civil death records until 1867, so why am I thankful that William died in May 1850? It’s because of a wonderful “other” part of the federal census called a mortality schedule. In the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, there was another schedule taken at the same time that was record the deaths of those who had died in the previous 12 months. The 1850 was “officially” taken on  1 June, so the mortality schedule was supposed to include those who died between 1 June 1849 and 31 May 1850. William squeaked in by dying on 3 May.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio.

The mortality schedule tells us that he was a farmer, age 40, born in Ohio, and died in May of “liver complaint,” which he had for 11 days. (Just think — if he had lived for another month, we likely wouldn’t know what he died from. Though come to think of it, “liver complaint” is a rather catch-all term…  But at least we know it was medical and not like he was run over by a runaway horse or something. With this family, I’ll take what I can get.)

William’s widow Matilda and seven of their children (including my great-great-grandfather George and 11-month-old Marion) were enumerated in Reading Township later that summer.

William is buried in Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery in Reading Township.


  • William Skinner, 1850 mortality schedule, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio, page 925.
  • William Skinner tombstone, Hopewell Baptist Cemetery, Reading Township, Perry County, Ohio. Visited the cemetery several years ago. At that time, William’s tombstone was broken and lying on the ground. It has since been restored, as seen in the photo on FindAGrave.
  • Matilda Skinner household, 1850 federal census (population schedule), page 353a, household 456, family 456.
  • Stephen Skinner Family Bible, The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, (Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., no date). Owned in 1983 by Bertha Stalbaum, Valparaiso, Indiana; present location unknown. Photocopy at the Ohio Genealogical Society, Bellville, Ohio.