Thursday, March 29, 2018

Women's History Month 2018: Death Certificates

from the collection of Gena Philibert-Ortega

Throughout  this month we've looked at various (but not all) documents that can record your female ancestor's life. As we approach the last days of the month, it seems fitting to focus on records that document the end of her life.

Today's document is an obvious one. Death certificates provide us such detail as name, address, parents' names, cause of death, and burial place. But they are not without their problems.

First, a death certificate includes primary and secondary information. The information about the death is primary and supplied by the attending physician or other medical personnel. It's not perfect and obviously it can include errors but it is the primary information on the death certificate. 

Personal information on a death certificate such as age, birth date, and parents' names can also be prone to error. Even a close family member can provide incorrect information due to the stress of the death or  simply because they don't know. It's on death certificates that we see mother's names listed as "unknown" or as in the above example from my 2nd great-grandmother, her mother is listed as "Elizabeth?"

The other problem is that deaths are not consistently recorded by states over time. Each state or even county started issuing death certificates at various times in history. And in the beginning of that state's vital record registration, it may be inconsistent. Add to that the fact that they may not be available to researchers due to privacy restrictions and death certificates might not be the easiest record to access. 

We'll talk more about death certificate alternatives tomorrow. But for today,  make note of which death certificates you still need for the women in your family tree.

Eichholz, Alice. Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004.

GenealogyBank Blog - Genealogy 101-#5 Death Certificates

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