Friday, March 28, 2008

Invitation to some inquests

Thanks to my Pittsburgh friend (and 5th cousin once removed) Jan for pointing out a post by Lisa Alzo at The Accidental Genealogist. (It's blog "for genealogists who like to write, and writers who happen to be genealogists!" -- how did I miss that one?) Lisa writes about The University of Pittsburgh Archive Services Center's Coroner Case File Project, preserving and making available Allegheny County coroner's inquest files from 1887 to 1973.

She's hoping that one o f these files will shed light on a probable murder among her relatives, but from some of the comments in the accompanying wiki I wouldn't count on it. One browser of the files reports, "I think that some of my case files [more than 100 years ago] that were ruled suicides were actually misdiagnosed or just plain wrong. In one file a man was found in the Allegheny River, his feet bound and stab wounds in his chest. The coroner ruled it a suicide..." Moral: always evaluate official sources with a wary eye.

These files are an unusual source for unusual circumstances (or, perhaps, for historical background). Similar files covering shorter time spans are also available through the Illinois State Archives' regional depositories for the Illinois counties of Cook, DeWitt, Macoupin, Vermilion, and Wayne.

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