Victimsb Death Certificates

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Linda Fitzhenry

I have a question regarding the issuance of official certificates of death for the victims. Those whose bodies were recovered had permits for burial issued. However, what about those who were not recovered at all?

Obviously some form of official record must have been created for the unrecovered victims. Otherwise, their estates could not have been settled. Let's take, for example, Thomas Andrews. He left his wife with a goodly sum of money, a portion of it in life insurance. How could Helen Andrews have cashed in the insurance policy without a death certificate? Does anyone know when and where such a certificate was issued for him?

What about the dead officers, such as Smith and Murdoch? Their bodies were never recovered either. How did their families document the deaths?

Also, consider such illuminaries as Guggenheim. What about his estate, and the fortunes he left to his widow and chldren? They had to go through the courts at some point.

Officers and first and second class usually had some worldy goods to bequeath to their loved ones. Pity the poor third class - did anyone even bother to record their deaths on any kind of official record?

Thanks in advance for any help or information the members of the board may be able to provide.


Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
It seems to have varied from country to country and on the estate involved. Somewhere in my heap of stuff I have the case of a man named Thomas Franklin, who was lost. His body was not recovered. In a fairly simple procedure in a London court, his executor applied for a ruling that he was dead. Evidence was given that he had written letters from Queenstown and Bruce Ismay swore that he was on the passenger list but not on the list of survivors. Commonsense said he was dead and the insurers involved did not oppose the application. The court allowed his death to be proved by a sworn statement and the executor got on with the job.

Somewhere on this site there is a sad tale of a much messier affair. I think it was the case of Mrs Penasco.

One reason for Captain Larnder giving preference to bringing back the bodies of first class passengers was precisely because of the points you mention. Proof of death was very desirable when large estates were involved. For the crew and the less wealthy, commonsense generally prevailed. People had been getting drowned at sea for centuries and their presumed drowning was accepted.
Dec 13, 1999
As Dave mentions, it is different from country to country. Next of kin simply had to apply to the White Star Line offices for written confirmation that the victim had been on the ship concerned. WSL, as did Cunard in the case of the Lusitania simply replied:

"We are sorry to learn of your loss - ?????? is listed as being a passenger on that vessel and as his/her name does not appear on any list of survivors, we must come to the conclusion that they are not amongst them."

This was considered enough for insurance companies and for estates to enter the probate procedure. What was more difficult was when either a husband and wife or brothers, sisters etc. had died and different people were laying claim to property and inheritances. It was then the task of lawyers to attempt to determine which victim pre-deceased their partner - obviously an almost imossible quest which resulted in many survivors receiving letters asking if they had encountered various victims during the sinking which obviously spun the whole process out and resulted in many estates not being settled for several years.
This was not so much the case with Titanic where the male/female survivor ratio was mainly in the femail's favour, but with the Lusitania the gender survival rate was much more diverse.

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