The Unexplained Birth Certificate
January 1987

“The Unexplained Birth Certificate,” Ensign, Jan. 1987, 44–45

The Unexplained Birth Certificate

While working on my genealogy, I decided to make a trip to St. Catherine’s House in London, where all the civil records are kept for England and Wales. One day shortly before my trip, I was making notes of the information I would be seeking in London. I opened the desk drawer where I keep my genealogical papers and took out the few birth certificates I already had. To my amazement, I unfolded from the bottom of the drawer one I had never seen before.

My 400-year-old cottage in Darsham, Suffolk, England, has never been the family home. Because of my father’s health, my parents have never visited me, so I knew it couldn’t have come from them. My desk had been bought at auction, at the other end of the country, and had been quite empty when I had received it—no paper lining, no hidden drawers.

The certificate could not have come from St. Catherine’s House, because they will not send certificates unless the search information is completed and a fee is paid in advance.

I read the certificate with growing confusion. It was a record of the birth of Edward Ernest Judson, born 24 April 1886, to Henry Edward Judson and Hannah Judson of 24 Marlborough Street, Oldham, Lancashire.

The parents were, quite definitely, my great-grandparents—the same names, precisely, and the same address as on my grandmother’s birth certificate.

I went to the telephone and called my mother.

“Granny had three brothers, didn’t she?” I asked.

“Yes,” said my mother, sounding surprised and a little curious. She is not a member of the Church—I am the only one in my family—but she is used to my “eccentricities,” including my interest in my ancestors.

“And their names were Harry, Bert, and Wilfred?” I continued, having heard many stories of all of them.

“Yes …”

“Was there an Edward Ernest?”

“No …” then a pause.

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Well … I did hear Granny say that Great-Grandmother lost a baby, and another little boy when he was about five. I don’t know what their names were, but I suppose one could have been Edward. I’ve heard her say he was a very exceptional child, dreamy and extraordinarily sweet-natured. In fact, he used to say he could see angels. I had forgotten about him until now.”

Then I asked her if she had ever had his birth certificate, or any papers relating to him, although I already knew the answer. We were not a family that kept records; we had changed houses, even countries, many times, in hectic circumstances. All such valuables we had—family photographs, records, and more—were lost in a fire in Iran when my parents lived there.

“No!” she said, considerably surprised.

“And you wouldn’t have sent it to me?” I wanted to explore every possibility, no matter how ridiculous.

“Of course not! What is this all about?”

“I’ve just found his birth certificate—in my desk!”

“That isn’t possible!”

“I know that,” I agreed. “But I have.”

That night I slept only fitfully and was up long before necessary to make the journey to London. Once there, I went into St. Catherine’s House and made straight for the section where deaths are recorded. My mother had said Edward died when he was about five, so I heaved down the great quarterly ledgers, starting with 1891, five years after Edward’s birth.

There was nothing. I went to six years, then seven. A feeling of almost unbearable tension was growing inside me.

Then I found it: 19 November 1894. Edward Ernest Judson, aged eight years, had died of stomatitis, septicemia, and exhaustion.

I still feel a pang of sorrow thinking of that child, struggling for life, and hope that his mother was comforted in her loss.

With shaking hands I copied all the information from the ledger, paid the fee, and a few days later received the death certificate. I have never filled out a submission form for work for the dead with such a sense of awe and certain knowledge of the sanctity and necessity of the ordinances as I did then. I am more grateful than I can say to have had a small part in the work for his salvation and am more conscious than before of the privilege it is to go to the temple of the Lord.

I have never found any explanation for the appearance of that birth certificate in my desk, other than that the hand of the Lord was moving in behalf of a boy who did not live long enough to learn of the true gospel for himself.

  • Anne S. Perry, a novelist and journalist, is the public communications director for the Norwich England Stake.