Glasgow Necropolis Stillbirth Mystery

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Glasgow Necropolis Stillbirth Mystery

Post by kitkat27 » Tue Nov 17, 2020 10:09 pm

Attempt number 2 at writing this post, pressed submit the last time after and hour of writing and lost the whole thing.

I have come across the following mystery while indexing burial records for the Glasgow Necropolis during the last lockdown. Warning this is a rather lengthy post so go make yourself a cuppa then come back to read.

Hopefully this will give all those currently going through another lockdown something to read and theorize about over the next few days, and who knows maybe we will solve it?

I should stress that the following only relates to the Glasgow Necropolis as this is the only data we have to work from.

When I first started indexing, we were in 1856 and now we are indexing 1858, a few months ago I noticed that in all the pages I had been given to index all the stillbirths were female, I raised this with the project lead and it seems a few others have found the same trend and which launched an investigation.

What follows is some data.

In the database of our currently indexed pages until the end of 1857, 1079 stillbirths were recorded, 539 females and 540 males (a suspiciously even split but much closer than we would expect)

Going back over a few years the figures were as follows:
1857 73 Total 70F 2M 1U
1856 78 Total 77F 1M
1855 82 Total 61F 21M

1854 113 Total 33F 80M
1853 92 Total 33F 59M
1852 69 Total 19F 50M

From these figures a big change took place in 1855 but we have no idea why.

A sample taken from the 1860's shows that there didn't seem to be many SB's and most (but not all) were denoted as female. By the 1870's gender was not being recorded at all just “infant of...”

From this it beings to look like the dashes in the female column cannot be an accurate record but as the job of an indexer is to record what is on the documents, throws up a conundrum when bringing in the idea to just change all SB's to unknown.

Someone then used the figures from the NRS and the death records on SP to try and see if there was any anomalies that cropped up there, however as deaths of unknown age are sometimes denoted as '0' on SP this ended up being a fruitless effort. (I have included this before someone else does the same and tangles themselves in the same knots.)

A look at the Guide to the Statutory register of deaths on SP found that the age at death is being added retrospectively to some 1855-1865 entries shown as previously shown as 'U'.

A brief look a the burial records for other Glasgow Cemeteries (Craigton, Sighthill and both East and South Necropoli) discovered that in the case of the E Necropolis stillborns are described as “infant of...” with no indication of gender. The other 3 cemeteries are still recording much more relationship information post 1855 and stillborns are characterised as “son of...” and “dau of...” None of this helps us.

It seems that after looking at all this information the general idea is that for any stillbirth record the gender is probably not accurate for any of the records.

Hopefully you are still awake after such a lengthy read (well done if you managed to make it this far)

Do you have any evidence to back up our theories?
Have you seen similar trends in other Burial Records?
Or are we seeing coincidences where there are none?

This mystery emerged during my times indexing for the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis to index their Burial Records. If you wish to read up on the Friends and all the work they check out their newsletters at which include very interesting stories that crop up in the indexing process.

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Re: Glasgow Necropolis Stillbirth Mystery

Post by AndrewP » Wed Nov 18, 2020 12:29 am

I have no comment on the cemetery records, but as a sample I had a look at ScotlandsPeople, using the year 1857 for deaths registered in the City of Glasgow.

The first thing I found was that if you search from age 0 to age 0, it blanks these ages out and gives you all ages unfiltered. If you want age 0 to age 0, you have to take age 0 to age 1, then age 1 to age 1, then subtract the second group from the first to get age 0 to age 0.

The results I found using the above criteria were:
1857 deaths age 0 to age 1 :: 2828 male :: 2386 female
1857 deaths age 1 to age 1 :: 1010 male :: 913 female
therefore by calculation
1857 deaths age 0 to age 0 :: 1808 male :: 1473 female

The age 'blank' by my understanding are recorded as age 130.
1857 deaths age 130 to age 130 :: 3 male :: 3 female
The three females are the same record (person) by two surname variations and two first name variations.

Make what you can from that.

All the best,


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Re: Glasgow Necropolis Stillbirth Mystery

Post by Currie » Fri Nov 20, 2020 9:47 am

A few scraps,

Stillbirths were not registered in Scotland. However, if a child showed signs of life at birth, but immediately died, both the birth and the death were registered. ... frontcover

The cemetery records prior to 1855 were therefore unregistered deaths. From 1855 they would have been a mixture of unregistered and registered deaths.

How would the cemetery have defined a still birth? Did they take the informants word for it, or did they have their own definition. e.g death within a certain number of days of birth. Perhaps their definition changed in 1855 with the registration of only a part of what might have generally been regarded as still births.

What controls were there over the disposal of the bodies of unregistered stillbirths? Did they all make it to a cemetery?

The Glasgow Herald, Monday, Feb. 5, 1855, has some Glasgow stillbirth statistics 1848-1854. ... page&hl=en

According to the 1858 Detailed Annual Report by G.R.O.S. male still births greatly exceeded the female in the ratio 13 to 10. ... frontcover

These above reports are available on the HISTPOP site. The site has been difficult to access in recent times because of “busy” messages.

Infanticide comes to mind, but not seriously.


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Re: Glasgow Necropolis Stillbirth Mystery

Post by kitkat27 » Mon Nov 23, 2020 8:19 pm

Thanks AndrewP and Alan for Replying to this little conundrum, for some reason my notification emails have been switched off so I missed these replies so apologies for the delayed replies.

You have both mentioned that the male deaths are statistically higher on averages, which we had already found out but I hadn't mentioned in my initial post, there was just so much information to hand that I was trying to cut it down to an essential information so as not to bombard people!

It is interesting that there was a change in some respect in 1855 with the Statutory records coming into force so there has been a change in procedure so to say that might have influenced the change.

The Glasgow Hearld article was an interesting read, will be passing that one along the line although the stats are obviously for the whole city, we had looked at similar stats but only for the period 1855 onwards and these also include the amount of burials which is different.

From my limited knowledge it would probably have been the funeral director or informant who told the cemetery record keeper of the stillbirth status of the body.

I think the thing that us indexers can't get past is that if it was them just 'being lazy' in a sense the way the pages and columns etc are set up (not sure if this is all cemeteries as I've only seen the Necropolis ones) it would have been far easier for them just to mark the male column instead of the female one...

Sometimes it would be nice if someone just so happened to know said record keeper and could just ask him!!
As we can't travel back in time I suppose we'll just all have to theorize about the whole affair.

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