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Does anyone know about stillbirth procedures during the 1940s?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I'm hoping someone here knows something about how stillbirths or the deaths of babies who died within minutes of birth were handled in the 1940's.

In 1947 or 1948 my Grandmother had a little girl die a few minutes after she was born (she was born alive, but lived less than 15 minutes). There were some awful things that happened and may even have caused it (like the doctor was drunk when he showed up to deliver the baby). My Grandmother never saw her daughter and it's haunted her to this day. My Grandfather is the only one who ever saw her and the things he saw he just this week started talking about.

My Mother is visiting my Grandparents and has been recording a lot of things about the family and what not. But the thing is, no one knows where this baby was ever buried. My Grandfather said he paid $35 for her to be buried but there was never a funeral or burial service performed. (Apparently it was discouraged since she basically wasn't considered a person....) So my Mother has been in touch with every funeral home and the hall of records for the area and they can't find any record of her by her name or even by "Baby ___". My Grandparents never even received a birth or death certificate.

So at this point my Mother assumes she was buried in "The Potters Field" next to one of the churches. But does that make sense, since my Grandfather paid for a burial? Or does that sound like it would be the case? I don't know what the going rate for a burial or plot was back then. Since my Grandfather has started opening up about what he saw and experienced my Mother and I are just beyond furious (including some treatment of her body....too vulgar to put on here). I know times were different and what not then, but it was still wrong. But at this point, my Mom thinks it would comfort the whole family to just know where this poor baby was buried.
post #2 of 19
Thats terrible my Cousin lost a litle girl and she was buried. The worst part was she was over 9 months preg when she lost her. She got to hold her and name her before they took her away. This was the 1970's though. I wish I could help you.
post #3 of 19
First thought that came to mind is the baby was sold and was never dead. That's just horrible.
post #4 of 19
The only thing you can do is contact funeral homes, churches, etc. but honestly there is probably no record. Most babies were buried in an area reserved for things like that, with no markers or anything.
post #5 of 19
I don't know anything concrete about attitudes at the time in the US, but I believe they were similar to here, more of the 'forget it ever happened' type of thinking. Certainly here in the UK during the inter-war and post-WWII years a lot of people had become resigned to death due to their losses during WWI and II where often even in the case of adults there was never a body to bury and grieve over, that applied as much for people killed in the blitz bombings as for those with family killed in action. People were used to mass graves of unknown soldiers somewhere overseas, or buried under rubble with no sign of them to be found, and death became something to be quickly grieved before moving on, necessary in circumstances of survival.

It strikes a huge contrast with the earlier Victorian era in England where death was a part of life and was marked by strict social conventions in mourning periods and dress (inspired at least in part of course by the mourning of Queen Victoria for her late husband), and elaborate funerary and memorial services for those that could afford it, including for newborns. It was common for a photo to be taken after death or of stillborn babies ("memento morii") to be sent to loved ones in cards or kept in a locket.

It was the huge losses in the two World Wars that put an end to that culture, I think for so many people experiencing so much tragedy in trying times, there was no practical way of mourning involving burial and memorials, people became much more hardened to the idea of mortality, and memorial and public mourning went out of the window (due largely to the practicalities of being bombed pretty much continuously and having to survive awful conditions) and persisted for decades after WWII.

I feel for your grandmother. I don't know if what I have said is relevant to the US, you weren't in exactly the same position as England at that time, but a lot of people had gone to war and not come home, and the threat of the war being brought to your shores also, I think the mentality between UK and US in that early post-war time may not have been so different. I hope that I have been able to put it in a socio/cultural perspective.

I hope your grandmother finds the answers she is looking for, but alas I feel she may never get a clear answer. Just be there to listen and to be a shoulder to cry on should she need it.
post #6 of 19
Your story is so sad. My grandmother had 2 stillborn children in the 1930's. My mom recalls going to the funeral services for both of them. I think what they did back then was what the family asked for. In the case of my mom's siblings (one a girl and one a boy), the family took responsibility for burial. If they had just paid for a general burial, I would suspect that the child was buried in a Potter's Field. Tracking down records back then could be very difficult to do.
post #7 of 19
My grandmother had a stillborn baby in the early 1920's. I know they said they had the baby buried the next day, but the birth took place at home.
post #8 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlleyGirl View Post
The only thing you can do is contact funeral homes, churches, etc. but honestly there is probably no record. Most babies were buried in an area reserved for things like that, with no markers or anything.
I have a feeling she's probably right. Records are really hard to find back in those days. Especially the kind of records you are talking about, with that sort of doctor.

I know of a few "child cemeteries" around here (Iowa). They don't have a single marker, just a barren feild in the middle of nowhere.

I'm terribly sorry for your family
post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 
I'm so glad I posted this here. You've all given me great feedback on it. I think what I'm going to suggest to my Mother is to go to the Potters Field and take pictures of that. (she photographed the headstones of most of our family that are buried in the area) I think Mom just finding some evidence that the hospital burried the babies they lost in whatever certain place would be a comfort to my Grandparents. I think the whole pretend/forget it never happend mentality from the time is half the pain for them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Crazyforinfo View Post
First thought that came to mind is the baby was sold and was never dead. That's just horrible.
That's one of the nightmares Gram has had all these years. But one of the awful things that doctor did in front of my Grandpa is how we know she had died.
post #10 of 19
It sounds as if the baby was born in a hospital; have you contacted them? This is going to sound like a long shot (and probably is) but there still may be nurses living who worked in that hospital. I realize they'd be quite old, but you never know. Have you tried looking at the local county seat for a birth/death certificate? You mentioned your Mom contacted the hall of records--I'm not sure if that's the same thing as a county clerk's office. Did your Grandparents attend a specific church? If you think the baby might have been buried in a church's cemetery, that might be another place to look for a record.
I'm afraid this might be one of those cases that will never be resolved. My own great-grandparents have no marker, so even tho' I have dates of death and the cemetery's location I really don't know where they are.
Good luck finding some clue as to the baby's where-abouts.
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by libby74 View Post
It sounds as if the baby was born in a hospital; have you contacted them? This is going to sound like a long shot (and probably is) but there still may be nurses living who worked in that hospital. I realize they'd be quite old, but you never know. Have you tried looking at the local county seat for a birth/death certificate? You mentioned your Mom contacted the hall of records--I'm not sure if that's the same thing as a county clerk's office. Did your Grandparents attend a specific church? If you think the baby might have been buried in a church's cemetery, that might be another place to look for a record.
I'm afraid this might be one of those cases that will never be resolved. My own great-grandparents have no marker, so even tho' I have dates of death and the cemetery's location I really don't know where they are.
Good luck finding some clue as to the baby's where-abouts.
I'm pretty sure the Hall of Records and the clerks office are the same there. I know they've (Mom and a cousin of ours) gone through the papers on the old micro-fish (don't know how to spell that). I think they did contact the hospital but hadn't heard back from them (to my knowledge). I wonder if after all this time they'd be worried about a law suit or something. The Potters Field my mother referred to was at one of the churches near there. There are 3 hospitals in that town and 2 are St. something or others (I do know the names, just trying not to share too much personal info) and I think they had specific churches they were associated with. My Grandparent's are Catholic and there are quite a few Catholic churches in that town, but Mom knows which ones they had attended. Something I hadn't thought about till reading your post is if one of my Great-Aunt's has any knowledge they haven't divulged over the years. The eldest Great Aunt passed a couple years ago, but the others are around, as well as cousins who were old enough to remember this. I'm going to ask Mom about that tomorrow.
post #12 of 19
I agree with an above post. I think that your best bet is to contact the hospital. They have to have some record of who was working at that hospital. Even though it was over 60 years ago there could very well be nurses still alive that you could contact. I am sure that if something bad enough to kill happened they would remember.


Are you sure that what he saw would have killed her, or could it be that they just wanted him to think she was dead....people paid high price for babies back then.
post #13 of 19
I searched and it says the average price of a funeral was $225 in GA in the 40s so I would imagine it was just the burial charge with nothing else.

I would try nurses too, or maybe search to see if someone else went through the same thing and has gotten any further than you in their search. While it may not give ultimate closure, it may help some.
post #14 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by angelrn08 View Post
Are you sure that what he saw would have killed her, or could it be that they just wanted him to think she was dead....people paid high price for babies back then.
Oh we're positive she was not alive...from the way the doctor "held" her body up in front of my Grandfather...
post #15 of 19
I too would contact the hospital and obtain the records. The pathology department especially should have some records if there was a dead baby. It also depended very much on the religion of individuals or even the hospital in those days- more so than now.

My own example is of my own parents who lost a child at about 6 months. The hospital did not take responsibility for him (the baby was male) and the baby had to be buried by my father and some friends in a cemetery that went with our place of worship. Roman Catholics in the same hospital had to bury their babies in a section of the cemetery for people not baptized- why they were not baptized at "birth" I do not understand. I am unsure about other religious practices. This does not occur now I am told.

But I do believe your first point of entry is the records department of the hospital. If they do not want to help you, then you will know something is up. Also contact whoever has the doctors files and ask for your grandmother's - or whoever in your family has responsibility for this. In all likelihood, this physician is not practicing if he is still among us so obtaining his records could pose a mystery. However, contact members of his family or other doctors he worked with and of course the hospital and they should point you in the direction of his files. Sometimes, alas, physicians will place a notice in a newspaper when they terminate their practice and ask former patients if they want their files.

I would also contact the Physicians Association and see if they can locate his records or at least where he went and even if they cannot give you personal info, they might provide you with his last address and colleagues' names.

Good luck! I hope it is nothing nefarious and more a case of the harsh measures that were taken in those days re babies that died at birth or born not at full term. Your gmother's case is baffling though. It seems curious they did not release the body? (and this reminds me of that book about the doctor who delivered his own baby, discovered she had Down's syndrome and asked his nurse tio place her in an institution.I forget the name- an excellent book). Hopefully and really, most likely. though, this is more a case of a hospital whose policies were very different than we would allow now. I know of a hospital in NEngland who had a pathologist who kept the parts of autopsied babies and did research! (and that was just less than 10 yrs ago). So anything is possible!

Many hospitals also now have an individual who helps peple navigate the bureaucracy - if it a very large one- so seeing that person if one exists could be a wise idea too.

Good luck!
post #16 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Siobhan View Post
It seems curious they did not release the body? (and this reminds me of that book about the doctor who delivered his own baby, discovered she had Down's syndrome and asked his nurse tio place her in an institution.I forget the name- an excellent book).
i was curious about the book - was it The Memory Keeper's Daughter? that one fits what you mentioned...
post #17 of 19
I think your best bet is, as I mentioned before, trying to find nurses that worked in the hospital at that time. You mentioned questioning elderly relatives who may remember something. Unfortunately, you just may never get a answers to your questions concerning this baby. Hospitals in the 40s just didn't keep records like they do today. Obviously, I don't know the state in which this incident occurred. Do you know when death records became mandatory for this state? It's possible that no birth or death record was recorded if the baby was stillborn. I've been doing genealogy for a lot of years, and have discovered that sometimes there just aren't any answers to be found. I hope you can find some bit of infortmation that will help you, but don't be surprised if nothing surfaces.
post #18 of 19
YES! That's the book- thx, it is in my library room (aka messy den that also serves as a guest rm on occasion, lol) but for the life of me, could not recall the name. I enjoyed that book!
post #19 of 19
That would be if the baby was born in a hospital. My Mom had a sibling that only lived one day, a boy. Mom remembers him being born at home but she was so young that I am sure that she didn't know what happened to her brother.

I am pretty sure that he was not buried in a Potter's field. I think that the German immigrants in the city helped my grandparents.

That would be after 1923 and before 1925 when my Mom was 5 and before her surviving brother was born.

I have no idea about any birth certificate.

I am still the baby in the family by far.
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