Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Adventures of a Ten Dollar Bill: How I Tore Down My Brickwall

For a number of years, I have had two major brick walls. I call them “My Two Elusive Hughs”. They are father and son; my great grandfather and my great-uncle. The younger one left Scotland in 1920 and emigrated to “America” Little was known about him other than that he left a wife and two young children in Scotland and that he died young, in California. From the California Death Records Index, I was able to get Hugh’s death certificate. Although his cause of death sounded like alcoholism, his death certificate listed his death as “accidental.” I learned that he died from drinking
cleaning fluid and that there had been an autopsy and a coroner’s report. I wrote a letter to the Coroner in Alameda County where I knew he had lived in 1936 (he died in 1947). I attached a ten dollar bill to offset the cost of copying and mailing the information to me. A few weeks later, the money was returned along with a note saying Hugh died in San Francisco County. I wrote a letter to the coroner in San Francisco and attached the ten dollar bill to it. Another few weeks later, the money was returned with a note telling me that the archival records were now held by the San Francisco Public Library. One more letter and the same ten dollar bill was sent to the San Francisco Public Library and lo and behold, the next envelope from California held the autopsy report, the pathology report and the coroner’s jury’s verdict! The death was ruled accidental, but Hugh’s wife reported that he had been drinking all day from what he thought was a bottle of gin, It actually contained cleaning fluid. So, ten dollars, three US stamps and a bit of perseverance was all it took to break down a brick wall and learn that “the wife likely did it in the kitchen with a gin bottle!”

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