Monday, October 21, 2013

The Surprise in Fred Gerner's Death Certificate

Below is an image of the death certificate of my father's maternal grandfather, Frederick K. Gerner.  Below that is a transcription.  Fred has been an elusive character for more than a few years.  I kept finding leads, only to realize they were dead ends.  And now, finally, this.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Department of Health
Bureau of Vital Statistics
File No. 29357 [stamped numbers]
Registration District No. 279, Primary Registration District No. 1110
1. Place of Death
County of Butler
Borough of Bruin

2. Full Name  Fredrick K. Gerner

3.  Sex  Male
4.  Color  White
5.  Single, Married....   Married
6.  Date of Birth  Sept. 28, 1847
7.  Age   78 years  2 mos.  27 da
8.  Occupation
(a)  Trade, profession or particular kind of work   Farmer
(b)  General nature of industry, business....    Oil producer
9.  Birthplace   Germany
10.  Name of Father   Christian Gerner
11.  Birthplace of Father   Germany
12.  Maiden Name of Mother   Don't know
13.  Birthplace of Mother   Germany
14.  The above is true to the best of my knowledge.
(Informant)   Mrs. Fred K. Gerner [signature]
(Address)   Bruin, Pa
15.  Filed  [illegible]

16.  Date of Death   March 26, 1926
17.  I Hereby Certify, That I attended deceased from March 5, 1926 to Mar 26, 1926 and that death occurred on the date stated above, at 5 P.M.
The Cause of Death was as follows: 
Chronic Interstitial Hepatitis
129 [written before (Duration)....]
Signed   R. L. Sheets M.D. [signature]
March 27, 1926   (Address)  Bruin, Pa
18.  Length of Residence [blank]
19.  Place of Burial or Removal   Bear Creek
Date of Burial   Mar 29, 1926
20.  Undertaker   J. W. Knox
Address   Bruin Pa

Observations and Comments
  • Fred's given name is spelled inconsistently from record to record.  Sometimes it is Fredrick, other times it's Frederick.  But most often his name appears as just plain Fred.
  • Fred's birth year still seems uncertain.  This record gives 1847.  A photocopy of a page from a family Bible gives the date as 1848.  Birth year calculated from census records would indicate that either 1848 or 1849 could be his year of birth.  Is it possible that a some future date a birth record may be found?  I can only hope.
  • The surprise for me in this death certificate is Fred's cause of death:  chronic interstitial hepatitis.  It is now known as cirrhosis of the liver.  When I mentioned that to my family their immediate response was, "Maybe he was an alcoholic."  It's possible but if so, he was a very productive one.
Further research about cirrhosis of the liver tells me it is a disease that progresses slowly by replacing healthy liver tissue with scar tissue.  The scar tissue eventually prevents the liver from functioning as it should.  "The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins.  It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver."

Common causes of cirrhosis of the liver include:
  • fatty liver associated with obesity and/or diabetes.  I have only several photos of Fred but in all of them he is a very thin man.  Diabetes is a possibility.
  • hepatitis or some other chronic viral infection of the liver
  • blockage of a bile duct causing bile to back up in the liver
  • alcohol abuse

Unless Dr. J. W. Knox's records are preserved somewhere and are available for viewing and research, I'll never know details of how Fred came to have cirrhosis of the liver.



  1. When I read that earlier leads were "dead ends," I laughed since this blog is about a death certificate. Did you know you were going to be so funny today? Anyway, I'm glad you didn't just assume Fred was an alcoholic. A family friend has cirrhosis of the liver and has never drunk alcohol. Good for you to do the research.


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