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Kimberly Powell

Visitation of God

By November 26, 2007

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Cause of death from 1875 England death certificate. By Kimberly PowellI've seen a lot of death certificates over the years, but believe it or not this was the first time I ever saw "Visitation of God" listed as the official cause of death. My first inclination was to laugh hysterically, but a little research soon told me that the unusual cause of death wasn't quite as unique as I first thought. It was actually very common in the middle of the nineteenth century to attribute sudden unexplained deaths in this way - basically a fancy way of saying "natural causes."

If you find this interesting, you might be interested in exploring some of the historic causes of death found detailed in many online resources, including articles such as Decennial Cause of Death in England, 1851-1910 from the fascinating Web site A Vision of Britain Through Time. Or look up the unusual causes of death in one of these Old Disease Dictionaries.

December 6, 2007 at 11:04 pm
(1) Anonymous says:

Why was your first inclination to laugh hysterically? That came across a bit insensitive, which I’m sure you didn’t intend. It’s a good reminder that we as genealogists should handle documents as we behave in cemeteries: With respect and dignity.

December 6, 2007 at 11:24 pm
(2) ~Kimberly says:

Good point. I definitely didn’t mean to come across as insensitive. My initial inclination to laugh was only because it struck me as a funny thing for a coroner to list as an “official” cause of death, not that it wasn’t a valid cause. More of a disbelieving chuckle than a hysterical one, I guess. Absolutely no lack of respect intended. And one reason why I chose to let the dear departed remain anonymous.

December 10, 2007 at 5:43 pm
(3) Deb says:

Lighten up, anonymous!!!
Kimberly, Thanks for sharing your find and your humor!

August 7, 2009 at 11:46 am
(4) John Plumpton says:

Visitation of God: I was reviewing a Coroners Report and noticed that several people died in jail and cause was “Visitation of God” and wondering if they committed suicide. If anyone has the true answer since a coroner used this a a cause please let me know.. John Plumpton

Google Coroners report Horace Plumpton

February 24, 2010 at 5:06 am
(5) Persica Loquat says:

“Visitation of God” was indeed a common cause of death recorded by Coroners. It does NOT neccessarily mean that the death was “sudden” nor “unexplained”.

In the early days, Coroners investigated deaths to protect the King’s revenue. “Before the rise of the local magistracy and local police forces, the coroner was the principal agent in the investigation of homicide. He could also fine the community for unexplained murders. When he found that a person had committed suicide, his verdict would be that the deceased was a ‘felo de se’ and would order his property to be forfeit to the Crown.”(Ian Freckleton SC, “F.W. Guest Memorial Lecture 2007″ University of Otago). When a death was not a murder or suicide, a finding of death ‘by visitation of God’ would be returned.

To illustrate the frequency of this finding in the 19th Century, there is evidence from a study by Dr Laurie Gluckman who reviewed the first 384 inquests conducted in Auckland between 1841 and 1864 published as “Touching on Deaths: A Medical History of Early Auckland Based on the First 384 Inquests” (2000): verdicts of “visitation of God” or non-specific natural causes were delivered in 54 cases (14.06%).

November 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm
(6) A Connell says:

I have been doing family History for over 20 years and this is first time i have come across this cause of death in the family today and 2 be fair when i opened it. first thing i didnt was giggle

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