Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Benjamin Haley and Medical Science

Most of my ancestors for the past 5 generations are present and accounted for in records from birth to marriage to death (with the notable exception of my great-great grandma Emma).

Today I received one of the few vital records I had not yet collected on family for the last five generations. This was for my great-great-great grandfather, Benjamin F. Haley, son of Edward Marshall Haley and Clarissa Barrett. He was born about 1851 or 1852 in Plymouth (or Plympton or Kingston), Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I have yet to locate a birth record.

I have found documentation for both his marriages, his first to my third-great-grandmother Emma Jane Bonney on 13 January 1869 in Hanover, Plymouth County, Massachusetts; his second to Maria Keeley on 11 October 1892 in Falmouth, Barnstable County, Massachusetts.

Benjamin and Emma had 4 children: Eliza Jane (1869), Hiram Frederick (1870), Benjamin Franklin (1873), and Herbert Benjamin (1878).

Emma and 3 of her 4 children died in 1882, leaving only Hiram, my great-great grandfather.

Hiram was married in 1891, leaving Benjamin alone.  On his own, it seems Benjamin went to Falmouth.  Whether or not there was some sort of estrangement between father and son, I do not know.  However, it seems quite possible given Benjamin's move and what I discovered on his death record today.

A Surprising Death Record

Benjamin died 10 January 1939.  I wrote to the town of Barnstable for the record, as Benjamin was in that town in the 1930 census.

The record arrived today and showed that he had died in the "state infirmary" in Tewksbury, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

I was puzzling over Section 21 (Place of Burial, Cremation or Removal), which did not list a cemetery, and Section 22 (Name of Undertaker).  Stamped across the sections is this: "Chapter 113, General Laws".

I immediately looked up Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 113 (I was a legal assistant for 10 years, so it is good to know my way around the M.G.L.).

This is what I found:


Chapter 113: Section 1. Disposition of bodies of deceased persons
Section 1. Upon the written application of the dean or other officer of any medical school established by law in the commonwealth, the penal institutions commissioner of Boston, the trustees and superintendent of the Tewksbury hospital or other public institution supported in whole or part at the public expense, except the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, in this chapter called the authorities, shall permit such dean or other officer to take, within three days after death, the body of any person, required to be buried at the public expense, who died in any institution under the control of such authorities, to be used within the commonwealth for the promotion of anatomical science. In giving such permission regard shall be had to delivering such bodies to any such medical schools in proportion, so far as practicable, to the number of students therein.
Well, I'll be...  My great-great-great grandpa Benjamin never had a funeral or burial.  Instead, his body went to medical science.

But... Why?

This is at once both interesting and depressing.  He basically died of pretty typical old-age causes (generalized arteriosclerosis - hardening of the arteries - and hypostatic bronchopneumonia).  So it isn't like his body had anything unique to offer medical science; he would simply have been a practice "dummy" for the medical students.

It is sad to think his own son and daughter-in-law (both very much alive at the time), and adult grandchildren did not care for him in his old age.  Were they incapable or unwilling?  Was there estrangement in the family?

Unfortunately, Benjamin did not have many descendants outside of my own family. 

Hiram had 7 children, of whom only 4 seem to have had descendants.  My great-grandfather, Herbert, had 2 children.  Those 2 children each had 4 children, but our immediate family (my mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins) know little about the Haley family.

One son had a daughter who married, but we don't think she had children.

One daughter married and had a son, with whom I have been in touch.  I wonder if he might have any insight.

And another son had a daughter about whom we know nothing.

I will ask my grandfather if he knows anything about this particular piece of family history.


  1. Hi Wendy, Very nice piece and what a thrill to get vital records (I haven't had that thrill in ages). Anyway, you are lucky to still have your sure to ask as many questions as possible, you never know what clues he might have.

  2. Is your Benjamin Haley a descendant of William Hele/Haley/Healey of Cambridge, the one with five wives, who settled first in Lynn, Massachusetts about 1640?

  3. Hi Heather,

    Sadly, I have not yet found Benjamin's ancestors. There *may* be a connection way back.

    Benjamin's father was Edward Marshall Haley, born 1810 in Ireland. I have not gotten beyond the names of Edward's parents, which were Thomas and Mary.