FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Faulty Memories and Death Certificates

Death Certificates are usually excellent primary sources for death and burial dates because they were created so close to the time of those events.  They often greatly err in the record of birth dates, places and parents names.

Most death information is provided by someone other than the spouse or parent of the deceased.  There memory or knowledge is typically off a little or completely incorrect.

Case in point:  The parents names listed in the death records of Charles Joseph Gordon Logie are: Charles Logie and “Emily James Logie”.  

The name of is father is correct, but the name of his mother was actually, Ellenor Chalan.  His grandmother’s name was “Emma Elizabeth (nickname Elenore) James”.  The family member who provided the information remembered the surname of their great grandmother and added a first name that started with the correct letter of the alphabet.

Stress at the time of death and the dubious data in the memory of the informant are always huge factors in the accuracy of any data they give about events prior to death and burial dates.

This example is oft repeated in my collection of death certificates and records.  I was relieved to see that I had provided the correct information on my mother’s death certificate.  A quick review of all of the documental information for which I was the source was found to be accurate.  Whew!  I easily could have joined the ranks of those providing misinformation to official documents. 

I’m happy in this instance that I didn’t need the information on grandpa’s death record to assist in the search of his ancestry.  If I had counted on it, I could have wasted a lot of time in the quest.  I may even have been mislead and have unknowingly traced a false ancestral tree.

We all need to be careful when using data on any record that wasn’t created at the time of the event.  (yes, there are errors in the dates and places associated with the current event at times too, but with much less frequency).  

If possible find as many sources as possible to confirm data on records.  Even primary sources documents should be considered as ‘best informed guesses’ of the events surrounding the cause of its creation.  We all know and recognize this fact.  It’s just that we forget it from time to time and detour down the yellow brick road to the land of OZ and end up paying double or triple fare in wasted time and expense getting reoriented back to a known starting point.

While you are looking through your own records for evidence of this error, click on this link for the full Norah Jones Concert at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.  Soft sounds to keep you cool in the event that you find an error that has misled you in your own ancestral quest.

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19 July 2010 - Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy | , ,

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