Dead at 38

Yesterday I wrote about my efforts to organize (and dispose 0f) my collection of papers, letters, photos and more. And I promised to share some of my findings. Today I share this:

This, in case you can’t read it, is a death certificate for my great, great grandfather. My grandmother’s grandfather. He died 109 years ago (it’ll be 110 this December) here in Washington, D.C., not far from where I spent 15 years on Capitol Hill. He was the same age I am now — 38. Married, his immediate death was pegged to “exhaustion,” though a two-year battle with tuberculosis played a crucial role. His “color” was white; the other options were Colored, Indian, Chinese and Japanese. A resident of D.C. for 11 years, he was born in Philadelphia. His father hailed from Key West, his mother from D.C.

I came about this document at the behest of my grandmother, who was trying to put together her family tree. She knew Henry Pettit had died in D.C. and asked me to find his death certificate. A few hours in D.C. records and voila! Months later, when my grandmother attended my wedding, I took her to Glenwood cemetery where her grandfather was buried on Christmas Eve. We also visited the house where he died. Her own father died young, too. In 1918 he and his wife were both felled by the flu epidemic, leaving my grandmother and her sister orphans. They were adopted by separate families, though they always kept in touch.

Anyway, it’s one of those things I found and filed… and then found again. I’m glad I did.

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