The Death of Ann Robins

This is somewhat of an addendum to my last post about Ann Robins, and it’s primarily down to some sterling work by an Archivist at Gloucestershire Archives.

Firstly, I have to admit something. I freaking love archives. My local county records office here in Wiltshire opened its new doors in Chippenham (after moving from an old mattress factory in Trowbridge) on 31 October 2007 – almost exactly twelve years ago (the reason behind the fact that the main revolving door into the building only worked for about a week and why this has never been fixed remains a mystery …). I have had many dealings – via email or in person – with the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and cannot fault them

Whether you live in county or not, it is absolutely worth contacting your local records office or archive to ask about their holdings or to query them over specific family members.

Case in point: Ann Robins. Mid-way through creating my last post, I ordered a PDF version of her likely death certificate (why I hadn’t done this before I can’t begin to tell you!) courtesy of the GRO service. Once I had downloaded it from my account area on the website, I had a small surprise:

Cause of death: Died from injuries received in an accidental fall from a waggon [sic].

Not exactly dying with your boots on …

But then underneath the Signature, Description and Residence of Informant section was something that made me very pleased: Information received from Edward Wills Grace, Coroner for the lower division of Gloucestershire. Inquest held 3 of March 1876 Thornbury Ozleworth.

Inquests can be extremely interesting documents. Not only in terms of the final moments of your family member’s life but also in the kinds of people who surrounded them. Sadly, survival rates for inquest reports vary greatly around the country – even within the same county. In this instance I did what any normal, modern person would do: I tweeted the Gloucestershire Archives asking about their inquest holdings. I received a very prompt reply:

I did as was bid and then after a few days received some initial bad news from one of the Archive Assistants, Andrew:

Gloucestershire Archives does hold some records of the Gloucestershire Coroners. The records are split into divisions and the survival rate of inquest files is varied depending on the date and the division. We do hold records of the County Coroner: Lower Division in which Ozleworth was included but I am afraid that no actual inquest files survive between 1874-1916.

But Andrew assured me that all was not lost:

However coroner’s reports and other notable deaths were often reported in the local newspapers and often in more detail than you would find in the official sources. Currently the only online source for historic Gloucestershire Newspapers is the British Newspaper Archive. We have no connection to this website but some local newspapers can be viewed (for a fee) on their website  www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk  or free access is available via any Gloucestershire Library.

Hurrah for Andrew and his complete and helpful reply! But that was not all. Oh no. Andrew then went above and beyond …

From the information given in your email I have searched this resource on your behalf. The following may be of interest to you:

“MAY BE OF INTEREST”?!?!

Western Daily Press – Saturday 04 March 1876

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard – Saturday 11 March 1876
Stroud Journal – Saturday 11 March 1876

I hope this information is useful.

Andrew clearly being typically British in his understatement. Most definitely of interest and most definitely useful! Not only confirming Ann’s age, residence and husband, the newspaper articles include the sad details of her passing. That it was her son (and my direct ancestor) who was there when it happened made it all the worse. One can imagine the self-recriminations.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have thought to check the newspaper archives for such reports without the suggestion in Andrew’s email – but the fact that he went above and beyond – for free! – shows that you should never underestimate the county archive service!

In these days of ever-more cutbacks and slashes to local amenity budgets, the more these services can be proven to serve a need to the community, the less likely it is that their budgets will be trimmed to the point of non-feasibility (legal requirements for document storage notwithstanding). So get out there and engage with some archives …!

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