Six months ago, as I walked with my mother from the freshly dug grave of my paternal uncle, and the funeral party began to disperse, my mother told me that this was not the first uncle buried in that particular cemetery.
I was confused.
She went on to tell me that my aunt (her sister-in-law) had been on the phone from the US, and had talked about how there was another sibling, a little boy called Malcolm, who died when he was young, and she was just a teenager.
This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a person, and I’d researched for years to find generations of relatives, and didn’t really know how to feel about having one so close, yet so ‘lost’.
The following day I checked for baby Malcolm in the GRO indexes, which handily now include the mother’s maiden name. Sure enough, there he was – Malcolm Paul Martin, born 5th April 1958. I realised that without this maiden name, I’d never have spotted him.
Unlike the rest of the siblings, I’d never have independently spotted him without that maiden name, which in turn led me to see that Malcolm was born in a different district – rather than in Ely, he was born in Newmarket. An odd choice for a family living within 5 miles of Ely.
Whilst there’s little else of interest on the birth certificate, the death certificate reveals much more.
Again, I would never have spotted him, as this time he’s registered as having died in Cambridge… and not just that.. Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.
The death certificate goes on to say that he died aged 2 weeks, and gives the cause of death as “1(a) Pneumonia, 11. Prematurity congenital abnormalities Hair Lip.”
This was my grandparents’ final child. They were now in her early 40s, and their oldest child had been born almost 21 years previously. With his prematurity, his cleft lip (as it’s now called), and the striking blow of pneumonia, it meant that poor little Malcolm stood no chance. Being born prematurely in 1950s would have been hard enough, but not being able to take in those vital early nutrients due to problems with his cleft lip would have made him weaker, and he’d be weakened enough to stand no chance against pneumonia.
Premature baby care has advanced dramatically since, as has cleft lip surgery, and I know that the NHS deal with cases like Malcolm’s over and over again, and I’m sure that the outcome is more favourable these days. Malcolm never came home, and so my father’s memory of him is missing. I find that very saddening.
My aunt’s phone call, which is ahead of her visit in June, prompted me to try to locate his burial. She thought she remembered that he was buried in Little Downham cemetery, and so I decided to find out.
I made contact with the team at St. Leonard’s Church (the cemetery is attached to the church), and they were able to put me in contact with the Clerk of the cemetery records. I’ve been in this cemetery a lot. There’s loads of my relatives there, many with headstones, and many without. I knew I’d not seen a headstone for a Malcolm Martin, as I’d have noted it down – and at that time, the attitude to infant deaths was different even then, and the cost to erect a headstone would have been a chunk of the family’s much-needed income.
On Saturday I met with the Clerk and he, with the burial book in hand, led me to where he thought the grave site was. Whilst the cemetery had originally started recording burials in the 1870s with a nice plot map and clear notes (like Ely cemetery a few miles away), apparently they soon gave up, and reverted to a list. This means some detective work was needed in order to work out the most likely location.
After looking at the burials listed before and after Malcolm’s, we felt that we’d found the plot, particularly as the burial immediately before his had a headstone still standing.
So, as today would have been the 59th birthday of my Uncle Malcolm (still feels weird saying that), I feel that I can put him in my thoughts and welcome him into my family where he belongs, and kind of wish him a Happy Birthday too.