Sunday, March 18, 2007

What does 189 mean on death record?

From: Sharon Robinson
I read you column all the time and love the advise you give, but for the first time I am curious about something.

My grandmother died at the age of 38 in 1920 in Cabell County, West Virginia of typhoid fever. Her one and two-year-old babies also died. I have looked for epidemics in that area with no results. I concluded that there may have been a port of entry near the area and the fever was brought there aboard a ship, but I found nothing. I also looked for floods in the area in 1920 and found none in that year.

On the only death certificate found on one of the babies, it list the cause of death as 189. I would also like to know what 189 means: is it a number used when the death is from typhoid fever? Why didn't they write typhoid fever or just fever on the death certificate. This number has aroused my curiousity, and the death certificate has no attending Physician, no undertaker, no burial date, no dates of care, no county seal.

I would appreciate it, if you could find out especially what 189 means.

The US Centers for Disease Control website explains: "Salmonella Typhi lives only in humans. Persons with typhoid fever carry the bacteria in their bloodstream and intestinal tract. In addition, a small number of persons, called carriers , recover from typhoid fever but continue to carry the bacteria. Both ill persons and carriers shed S. Typhi in their feces (stool).

You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverages that have been handled by a person who is shedding S. Typhi or if sewage contaminated with S. Typhi bacteria gets into the water you use for drinking or washing food. Therefore, typhoid fever is more common in areas of the world where handwashing is less frequent and water is likely to be contaminated with sewage.
Once S. Typhi bacteria are eaten or drunk, they multiply and spread into the bloodstream. The body reacts with fever and other signs and symptoms."

From this you can see that a "port of entry" is not a required element for the spread of Typhoid fever.

Now as to the term "189" as cause of death. The use of codes are controlled entirely by an issuing agency, so you would need to speak with officials at Cabell County, West Virginia. A quick check of the 11th Edition HANDYBOOK FOR GENEALOGISTS states "County Clerk has birth & Death Records from 1853..." Contact info is as follows:

Cabell County
8th street & 4th Avenue
Huntington, WV 25701

The Cabell county website at USGenWeb isn't working properly, so Ol' Myrt won't list that as she normally would.

NOW, DearREADERS, Ol' Myrt wishes to stand on her soapbox for a moment.
Do you see the problem that codes/abbreviations can create for researchers that follow? While we know that the death records were not specifically created with family historians in mind, our genealogy databases ARE. For this reason I do NOT recommend creating your own unique numbering system for documents collected throughout your career as a genealogist. CITE SOURCES by listing:
-- Author
-- Title
-- Publication date
-- Page number (or document number)
-- Transcribe (word for word) using original spelling and abbreviation.
-- Then be most careful to also copy the info about codes or abbreviations used in the publication you are quoting.

In Sharon's case, the death certificate arrived without explanation of the code. Her next step is to follow-through with determining the meaning of the code 189. As our medical family histories become more important in determining our potential for disease, going this extra mile proves important.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)

DearMYRTLE, your friend in genealogy
Snail Mail Address:
227 Bellevue Way NE PMB 544
Bellevue, WA 98004

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