Mortician Reports on Recovered Bodies


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Bill Parke

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Oct 22, 1998
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I remember seeing a passage in a book during a visit to the Titanic museum in Massachusetts that morticians in Nova Scotia wrote reports on the recovered bodies from the Titanic.

Medical professionals are very thorough and detail-oriented. I wonder:

What kind of documentation about the bodies did these reports contain? Was there a standardized form for recording information? Were photographs taken? Do the reports still exist? Are they available for research purposes?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Bill, the only written records officially made were those drawn up by the undertakers on the recovery ships. These notes were brief descriptions of the bodies and their effects for identification purposes. They include no information about the condition of the body or cause of death. No post-mortem examinations were conducted, and the death certificates all show the cause of death as drowning rather than an accurate individual assessment. This is understandable in the circumstances.

Bodies which were unidentified but still recognisable (and had not been buried at sea) were photographed, and a few of these pictures have survived and been published in various books. Fragmentary information about the condition of bodies (usually general rather than specific) can be found in interviews, letters and diaries of those involved in the recovery operation. If you're interested in this aspect, check out the threads in the 'Aftermath' section of the Message Board for more details. The descriptive notes on bodies and their effects can be found on this website - see the front page menu: People - Victims.
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Bill Parke

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Many of the bodies were not recovered until weeks after the sinking. In the absence of detailed medical reports, have any medical professionals written on the specific effects of that kind of exposure on the condition of the bodies?

During the recent tsunami disaster, the effect of tropical weather on bodies was thoroughly reported. Has there been any similar analysis regarding the Titanic victims and the effect of weeks spent floating in the North Atlantic?
 

robin ayotte

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Nov 17, 2002
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just wondering if white star line tried to indentified the body's most of them had tatoo's and letters on them you would think that it would be easier to indentify the bodies, body 273 was a junior officer in his 30's and they have not found out what his name is yet that i know of.
 

Bob Godfrey

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No 273 was identified immediately from papers carried as Sidney Holloway. The recovery team had no way of knowing who Holloway was, but they seemed to have thought, possibly from elements of his uniform, that he might be an officer. But there were quite a lot of crew who wore jackets similar to those of deck officers - clerks and wireless operators, for instance. Holloway was actually a clothes presser from the linen room. The descriptions and (where available) photographs of unidentified bodies were circulated to White Star agents in various countries, but few if any further identifications resulted.
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robin ayotte

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Nov 17, 2002
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thanks bob, why did they not pass out the information in the town that the crew came from that might of been easier and then some of them if not most of them might have been identified by other crew who worked with them or family the same with the letter some of them carried with them, i just think white star could of went one step more and tried to find out who they were instead of leaving them in a grave with just a number on it.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Robin, White Star did just about everything humanly possible to identify the bodies that were recovered. The problem is that the crew came from a lot of places, not just Southampton. With a nice size chunk of Europe to cover, there was only so much they could do.
 

robin ayotte

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Nov 17, 2002
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on the one list there is no names on the other list there are 334 that they found and they all have there names on it, so sorry maybe i should read more before i leave a mess.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Nov 22, 2002
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No worries, Robin, those lists can be confusing. I tend to agree with you that more could have been done to identify the dead, but what was done was all that would have been expected at the time. Copies of the descriptions and photographs were forwarded to various White Star offices in Britain and Europe and I'm sure there would have been a set available in Southampton, but there was no active investigation, no questions asked of survivors or relatives. The evidence rather was available for those who applied to examine it.

I can understand any reluctance to do so. The prospect of examining dozens of photographs of the dead, some barely recognisable from the effects of physical damage or decomposition, is daunting especially for a grieving relative. And what could be achieved by it? For many, an unmarked 'grave' at sea was regarded as entirely appropriate for a seafaring man. Considering the alternatives, for an ordinary family in 1912 there was no question of a body being brought home, or of their ever being able to place flowers on a grave in remote Nova Scotia. In death as in life, their friends and loved ones were lost to them, whatever their last resting place. Many I think would have chosen to remember them as they lived, and not to look closely at the images and circumstances of their deaths with not much to be gained from it.
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S

samuel garcia

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only 335 bodies were found of 1500 victims and what happened to the missing 1200 bodies?
 
Jul 9, 2000
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You might be amazed at how quickly the sea can cover it's tracks. The Mackay-Bennett wasn't on the scene instantly so anyone who was out there would have plenty of time to be scattered by the wind and the wave. It doesn't help that a human body isn't the easiest thing to spot in the vast expanses of the open ocean. I know. I've tried during real man overboard evolutions during my own naval service and failed durned near every time even when I know where the victim was.

Frankly, I'm amazed that as many were found as there were.
 
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