Anatomy of a death certificate

April 7, 2012

An ancestor’s death certificate is my very favorite source for information. Not only on who that person was and their lineage. A death certificate also gives the genealogy researcher a treasure trove of data. Here you can find everything from the cause of death to the cemetery of interment and everything in between.

Anatomy of a death certificate

This is the one piece of evidence you should thoroughly examine and record in your records for future generations. It may take extra time to take more than the birth and death information, but it’s time well spent.

 Here’s what you should record:

*Full name

*Date and place of birth

*Date and place of death

*Address of deceased (you may find family still lives there)

*Cause of death (even if it’s a suicide, this is important for future generations to know). Be sure to also list secondary conditions

*Place and date of burial

*Full name of informant and relationship to deceased. This may be a married daughter and this will provide you with her a link to her family

*Deceased parents names and place of birth

For a female family member, the name of her parents will provide her maiden name in most cases.

Death certificates are listed under the name used by the person at the time of death. Take the example of Eliza Taylor that I’ve given you. Her maiden name was Wilson. You can’t search for a woman’s death certificate by her maiden name. You must use the married name.

Should you be examining death certificates pulled up at random whom you think may prove to be related at a future time, be sure to have some kind of file on your computer to record the information. The Family Tree Maker software offers an unrelated individual option where you can put in any information and link it back to the person once you find out the relationship.

The death certificate of Earl Preston Taylor is a good example of proving one fact I’ve never found in any other reference. His mother is listed as Nancy Dowis who married Levi Taylor. I’ve found no other records who listed her maiden name. Because of this reference I’ve been able to trace Nancy back to the Dowis family who resided in Newberry, SC at the turn of the 19th century. Without this one important clue, I’d still be searching for Nancy’s maiden name.

The photo of Eliza Wilson Taylor shows her at 100 years old. She lived a long life in Texas after moving there in the late 1800’s. I’d love to have had the opportunity to interview her for my research.

Death certificates were once available only through the Department of Health in the state the deceased died in. Now you can search for them on the website. The “merge” feature of the Family Tree Maker software also has them as a record to search for.

Occasionally you may run across an incorrect name listed as a parent. Thank goodness this is rare. Death certificates are very reliable as they are an official government document. Overall they can be trusted.


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