Family Tree Mystery: Jedediah Hanson Drowned While Bathing?

After learning more about my ancestor Silas Hanson (1727-1775), I decided to research his children to see what else I could learn about this branch of my family. I began by searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for his son: Jedediah Hanson (1759-1822).

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Jedediah Hanson
Source: GenealogyBank

Aside from notices of mail left at the post office, there was one article that mentioned Jedediah: his obituary.

An obituary for Jedediah Hanson, New-Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 6 August 1822
Source: GenealogyBank, New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 6 August 1822, page 3

It reported:

“In Dover, 23d ult. drowned, while bathing, Mr. Jedediah Hanson, aged 63.”

At first glance, I assumed “drowned while bathing” meant Jedediah had been taking a bath in a tub when he drowned. This didn’t seem like a common cause of death, so I did a quick internet search for 19th century “drownings while bathing” to see if this was something that happened regularly in that time period.

The first Google result led me to believe that perhaps Jedediah’s death didn’t occur in a bathtub after all.

A screenshot of a Google search for "19th century drowning while bathing"
Source: Google

Could “bathing” be referring to swimming in this context? Jedediah had died in the middle of the summer, after all. I clicked on the Historic Deerfield article to find out more:

“I had begun compiling a list of drowning victims in the Connecticut River Valley after I noticed that many families had drowning victims in their family trees. I was curious if drowning was a great danger of 18th and 19th century life, and if swimming was a popular skill that Valley citizens possessed. As I made this list, I became curious as to why they drowned. For many names on my list, there is no reason given, only the bare information that they drowned, sometimes listing the body of water. It was only when I began looking at newspaper accounts of the second half of the 19th century did I begin to see explanations for drowning deaths. Many of the drownings were the result of boating accidents, or trying to cross a river on foot or by horse. Some drowning victims were listed as intentional suicides.”

Source: “‘Drowned While Bathing’: The Hazards of Swimming in the 19th Century,” 22 July 2015.

Who knew that “bathing” was so dangerous?

Genealogy Tip: Causes of death can provide interesting insights into 18th and 19th century life. Find your ancestors’ stories at

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