Monday, October 7, 2013

Was John Sergius Fothergill really buried alive? I don't think so.

Memorial Brass in St Albans Abbey
Following my recent post on Harpsfield Hall I got a message from Anthony drawing my attention to the will of John Sergius Fothergill of Harpsfield Hall, proved on 12th April 1836. I decided to look further and Ancestry directed me to which had a picture of this memorial tablet in St Albans Abbey recording the death of as taking place on 24th March 1836. Clearly getting Probate was very much quicker in those days than it is today. So next I checked familysearch which told me he died and surprisingly was buried the same day, 24th March, in  St Albans Cathedral. This information is sourced to an unnamed affiliate - but the reference number suggests the affiliate was the billiongraves web site.

So I decided to check the burial record of FindMyPast and was told that he was buried at St Albans Abbey on 18th March 1836, at the age of 70, So he was buried six days before the brass plaque say he died! How uncomfortable for him. (At the time he was buried St Albans Abbey was not a Cathedral and the modern official name is "The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans" - see Wikipedia)

So was he buried alive? Of course not? And if further proof was needed  the Northampton Mercury of 19th March 1836 which read "On the 11th instant, at St Albans, John Sergius Fothergill, Esq. of Harpsfield Hall, Herts, in his 70th year." and further searching shows that the same message appeared in the Bucks Herald and Oxford Journal of 19th March, the Herts Mercury of 22nd March, and the Chelmsford Chronicle of 25th March. (In all these cases the name Harpsfield had been misread in the scan, which is why I hadn't found them earlier.)

There is an important lesson here. All records, however impressive they look, both contemporary and modern, can contain errors and while researching you are almost certain to make one or two errors yourself on occasions. The answer is to check everything and be aware that the information you have accepted in good faith may be wrong.

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