My book Life & Legacy may be a done deal, but the research rabbit holes still taunt me. Just the other day, delivered an interesting tidbit – a 1908 newspaper obit for Annetta Elmhirst, whose gravestone identifies her as Nettie Annetta Elmhirst. A couple of weeks later added an “In Memorial” for Annetta, following by an obit for her brother Joseph Henry.

Now, I already knew about Annetta and Joseph. They were my grandfather Gilbert Elmhurst’s siblings, and they are part of the Triumphs and Tragedies chapter in my book. And for good reason. Annetta, 23, and Joe, 30, were among three of Gilbert’s siblings lost to tuberculosis. Jennie was the other.

But the wording of the newspaper clipping in Ancestry’s tip about Annetta, who lived near Keene, Ont., caught my attention: “The deceased young lady contracted a severe cold a year ago from which she never recovered and has declined ever since till the time of her demise.”

Nettie’s brother Joseph Elmhirst (1880-1908)

A severe cold?

One wonders if this choice of words was about presenting a genteel image to the world – speaking of illness would be just soooo gauche – or was it about staving off community ostracism?

Certainly the latter was a possibility. That same chapter of my book draws info from Richard Everett Birdsall’s 1870 diaries, a time when our pandemic-style precautions were in place because scarlet fever was stalking the nearby Asphodel community. Physical distancing was definitely a thing.

But Annetta’s obit did make me worry about my research. Is it possible I had overstated her illness based on family stories? I double-checked her death certificate. That notice, dated Nov. 11, 1908, does not soften the news – and it verifies my story:

Duration of illness: 12 months. Primary cause of death: “consumption” (a.k.a. tuberculosis).

Nettie and Joe’s sister, Jennie, also died from TB in 1909. She was known as an accomplished violinist – I always loved this photo of her.

Meanwhile, there was no beating around the bush in her brother Joseph’s obit. He died in Bowden, Alberta, on March 28, 1908. The obit says he had been ill with consumption for two years and moved to Alberta in the fall of 1907 as “an endeavour to secure better health.” He was living with his sister, Carrie, and her husband George Lancaster and had been seriously ill for two weeks. As the obit says, “He gradually sank until death came on the date mentioned above.”

The obit says he had lived most of his life in the Ontario township of Otonabee where he was “a man of sterling integrity and was highly esteemed by all who knew him.” He was a member of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Westwood and his body was returned to Westwood to be buried in the large graveyard beside St. Andrew’s United Church just across the road.

As for the Memoriam to Annetta printed in The Review Dec. 11, 1908, there was no mention of cause of death, just a lengthy remembrance:

This dear one’s departure, may it be / A warning to us all

To think upon our future home / Ere death upon us call.

Now lying in the silent tomb / And done with all things here,

She who was to the family, / A loving sister dear.

A voice is here on earth of dear ones weeping

The loss of one they loved.

But she has gone where the redeemed are keeping

A festival above.


2 thoughts on “Severe cold indeed!

  1. I can see that your blog is going to keep me up at night…I now have an uncontrollable urge to revisit the family tree to be sure I have these details added. Also Joseph’s face is so familiar, I am sure I must have a picture of him. If it was unnamed (as many are) I will be sending you a thank you note!


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