Friday, March 30, 2018

Women's History Month 2018: Death Certificate Alternatives

Gena Philibert-Ortega
She was only 5 years old when she died. Scarlet Fever took her. She didn't live long enough to leave much of a paper trail. But it's in an uncle's family Bible that she is immortalized, thankfully, because death certificates didn't exist for the place she died in 1900. On the Bible page she is listed above her paternal grandmother who died two years later, having lived a much longer life but also dying without benefit of a death certificate.

And while it's a home source that records these women's deaths, it wasn't my home source so it took some networking, visiting, discussing and years before I saw it. Sometimes a "home" source is hidden away with a relative that you don't know or have little contact with. Sometimes it can be found on an auction website like eBay.

So a death certificate doesn't exist for everyone. So, what now? It really depends on the time and place. But alternatives to vital records can be found housed on websites, archives, and other repositories. And while not all of them are a "perfect" or a preferred source (think original record with primary information) they may have enough information that can get you started finding her death date.

So what could you look for? Consider the following:

  • Newspapers (legal notices, obits, funeral home notices, etc)
  • Scrapbooks (remember her FAN Club)
  • Correspondence
  • Family Bible
  • Funeral Cards
  • Funeral Home Records
  • Cemetery Records
  • Grave Marker
  • Cemetery Transcription Lists
  • Cemetery Websites
  • Pension Records
  • Membership Organization Records
  • Church Records
  • Church Publications (magazine, newspaper, program/bulletin)
  • Social Security Death Index
  • County or Local History
  • US Census Mortality Schedule

Also, remember that her FAN Club needs to be considered as well. Her death may be mentioned by a friend, cousin, or co-worker.

Research is an on-going process and it can last for years with little "luck." But the key is knowing where to look to ensure you leave no stone uncovered.


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