I almost titled this post using the tv show Quincy, but then realized there’s a whole generation of people out there that would have no clue what I was referring to. Trolling the FamilySearch catalog has once again paid off. If you’re unfamiliar with the catalog feature on Family Search, you are doing your research a disservice by not utilizing it. Family Search has a ton of the microfilm collections indexed. However, there’s even more that’s been digitized, but not yet indexed. One such collection for those of us researching Nova Scotia from a distance is the collection Coroners’ inquisitions, Nova Scotia : 1755-1928.
The collection of approximately 30 microfilms mostly deals with Halifax County. However, Volumes 1-7 have inquisition reports from various other Counties up to 1902. Volumes 8-74 deal strictly with Halifax County. For you historians out there, Volumes 75-77 deal with victims of the Titanic. The last Volume, number 78 is correspondence of Halifax Coroner’s Office from 1908-1928.
So to start off with, you’re going to look at the first microfilm, which contains an index . You’re going to want to keep the main list of microfilms open, so right click on the camera icon and open the microfilm in a new tab.
For the first 7 Volumes it just gives date ranges and Counties covered in each Volume. This will help though, because you can still narrow things down a bit. Make note of the volume number, and then go back to the main page and open the corresponding microfilm in a new tab to browse.
There isn’t a whole lot of information in these early files. The vast majority are the orders and payment receipts for individual inquests. But there is the odd few that have a little more detail. Here’s one for Alexander McDonald, who fell through the ice and drowned in 1852
In these Volumes dealing with Halifax County only, there is an index of names, and cause of death.
In these files, you will find a lot more information. You’ll find the names of everyone involved in the inquest, and affidavits. You may also find mention of family members. To find the file in these rolls, you need to take note of the Volume number, and file number. I looked for a surname from my own family tree, BOUTILIER. In 1839, George Coolan Boutilier died from a blow. According to the index, I need Volume 15, and George is case number 1
The Halifax County only Volumes are set up a little differently than the first reels. When I open up the microfilm that contains Volume 15, I want to look for file folders that denote the start of a case. This is George’s
According to the file, George Boutilier was involved in some playful skirmishing with one George Mason. The inquest found that unfortunately, George Boutilier received a blow, and ended up dying through the night after vomiting. It was ruled an accidental death, as George Boutilier was the one who came up with the idea of them fighting for fun.
As you can see from the images above, you are going to need your paleography skills. The handwriting in these images is about middle of the road for the collection. The great thing with Family Search’s image viewer is the ability to manipulate the image in several ways so that it is readable. You can print and/or download the images to your computer for your records.
The sinking of the Titanic is one of those moments in history that fascinates us over 100 years later. My personal belief is because it affected all levels of society. Even before Leo and Kate voyaged on the Titanic, I was fascinated by the stories. The medical examiner in Halifax was faced with a task that even today would be overwhelming. These Volumes are an eye opener to the scale of what he was responsible for. Each body was assigned a number. The Volumes give a page for each number. On these pages the following information can, but not always be found:
- Physical description
- Personal effects
- Name of next of kin and address that the effects and/or body was sent to
What struck me the most was how many had no name and were just “Unidentified”.
Now remember, they ran out of embalming supplies while at sea. The ship’s captains had to make the decision on who to bring back, and who were given burials at sea. Of the more than 1500 who went down with the ship, only 328 bodies made it to Halifax. Right at the start of the Volumes is this page, describing hundreds of canvas bags given to the Medical Examiner’s Office, taken from the victims whose bodies did not get taken to Halifax
Look at this great find in the file of victim Austin Van Billiard
If your ancestor was a Coroner, then you might find mention of them in this Volume. It covers 1908 to 1928, and I found correspondence for numerous different Counties. Most of the correspondence is the hum drum kind confirming appointments. But, There are a good chunk of documents relating to an inquest held by Dr. McGarry in Guysborough. There was quite the commotion as a result of the inquest, at one point even asking for the resignation of Dr. McGarry
If you’re looking for Coroner’s Inquisitions not held in this collection, contact the Nova Scotia Archives.