Have you been discovering the variety of details which can be provided on a death certificate or registration? As a beginner in genealogy, you will learn that following every little clue on a death record will help to confirm details of your ancestors. Every detail, every date, every name, place, informant, physician, burial information – everything can be pondered for future searches for your ancestors.

Remember to see a copy of the original document if at all possible, rather than rely on a transcription typed online. Transcriptions are subject to error in dates and other details, unfortunately. Errors creep in due to various difficulties e.g., challenging handwriting, wear and tear on the original document, misinformation from the informant (the original person telling a clerk what to write), or mistakes on the part of the original clerk or doctor registering the death. Also, online information may be limited to specific details; the original document may have many more details to examine. To be certain, always confirm any document details with another proof or document.

Here are a few ways you could find great clues from an ancestor’s death record:

– your ancestor’s full name, which may help you in other family or ancestor searches, and/or may give a clue of a family naming pattern, or of a mother or grandmother’s maiden name on either side;
– birthdate and birthplace (one more confirmation of these details);
– residence of ancestor at time of death (clue as to where to look for records);
– length of residence in the specific county/state/province/country is often given (again, clue to where to look for records);
– deceased person’s parents’ names, sometimes with mother’s maiden name, their birth country or place (a gold mine);
– whether single, married/divorced, widowed;
– cause of death; if it is an unusual word, check online for “old medical terminology” to understand illness names;
– length of this illness is often given, sometimes with other (non-lethal) medical conditions, e.g., arthritis;
– details of the “informant”: his/her name, place of residence, relationship to deceased (this can be another true goldmine!);
– name of attending physician (look to see if the same physician attended deaths of other relatives), place of his/her office;
– place where the death was registered, i.e., the specific city or county, or state/province, to help you search for other records of family members

I have a recent example of mining a death certificate for gold! From searching a relative’s grandfather’s death registration in B.C., I found the following completely new information: his father’s official full name and birth country, mother’s official full name including maiden name and birth country, that he was already widowed at this date, the date and place he was buried (cemetery), cause of death plus another existing medical condition (osteoarthritis – which I have also), the surname of his youngest married daughter (yeah! now I can find her on a census and other records), a new community to search because of his residence at death, and that his doctor turned out to be his son-in-law! The official full names were very important, as both parents had used nicknames based on their middle names! No wonder I was stymied in my searches.

Fascinating details all! Now I can go searching for other relatives, other cousins, in a different province in Canada and, with his death and birth date, I can search in historical newsletters as well. How exciting – this find allowed me to push back two more generations in my family tree. I was able to find his father and mother in Ontario, his two married daughters in Manitoba, and his other 3 sons living in the same area of Ontario where his parents had been living. Over 30 years’ residence in one place. And I also found that 2 of his brothers were blacksmiths as well as his father, from searching on a census of the little town. Interesting. What was it like being a blacksmith in the 1800s? Now I may be able to follow those 2 brothers because of their occupations, and their families, through marriage registrations, death registrations, and additional records. All this from one death registration certificate.

By the way, do note that the informant of the death may have been a relative who might not have had all the above information with correct details or, had mis-information; the informant could have been the family physician, who also may not have had all the details. You may get lucky as I did, however, and come upon a gold mine of details which eventually turn out to be wonderfully accurate! Happy searching.

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