FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Death Certificates and Other Research Tools

The resources available for family history researchers has never been greater with another 30+ million records added to the FamilySearch.org site in the past few months. Volunteer Indexers like you and I are constantly working to add indexed information and images to the FamilySearch site, so as grand as the number of records are now, wait a few months and the number will drastically increase again and again and again.

familysearchFamilySearch Indexing I hope you are one of the volunteer indexers who are bringing the wealth of the records in the granite vaults to light in the digital world.

Check out the records collections on the FamilySearch Beta site and see how many records you find on your own ancestral families.  Save this link and check back often.findagrave

Find-a-grave An amazing amount of ancestral data and records can be gleaned from the pages of Find-a-grave. Folks are linking the memorials of their ancestral families together on the site with a seemingly frantic pace. I constantly find information about our ancestral families and extended cousins on the site. Missing dates, spouses names and their families are the reward for spending a few minutes on the site.

Births Marriages Deaths Some of you may have ancestors or extended family that lived in Australia and New Zealand. Both countries have great sites that offer indexes to births and marriage as well as very easy to use document ordering pages. I’ve obtained marriage and death certificates from both countries and it couldn’t have been easier.

While on the subject of Death Certificates, be sure to check for family death certificates on the sites of many states that offer them online at no cost. Just copy the image and save it to your hard drive for printing and use in your genealogical sources.

Many folks aren’t familiar with the great Special Collections and Family History records available online from BYU-Idaho. I’m constantly surprised at the records that I find on the site.

Family History records make a great Christmas present for family members. Share the wealth of your work with them this year.

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28 November 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , | Leave a comment

Lives Intertwine ~ Small Town Doctors

Tracing ones lineage often uncovers forgotten facts and interrelated events in the lives of individuals and their families throughout the ages.

While transcribing thousands of death certificates for my ancestors and their extended family, the signature of one doctor, John Franklin Noyes, rose to a level prominence in my mind.

As one a couple of group of doctors in early small town Utah, Dr. John Franklin Noyes was usually present at significant events in the lives of my family.  He certified the deaths of scores of the family.  He was present at the time of many of their deaths and at many births in the family.

John Franklin Noyes MDDr. John Franklin Noyes His surname was readily identifiable due to his clearly written signature.  The name of his son, Kenneth Noyes, was prominent in my memory too because he was the doctor that delivered me and later administered shots to my tiny quivering fanny.  Well, it wasn’t always tiny, but whenever I visited his office and he had me stand on a stool, drop may pants and would say, “I hope the bees don’t sting anyone here today”, it did quiver.
Kenneth Noyes MDDr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes Dr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes, served as the family doctor during my life.  He sewed my fathers thumb back together after he ran it through a table saw.  He sewed my scalp back together after it caught a thrown hammer.  He patched, prodded and prescribed our bodies for many years.  The surname ‘Noyes’ was burned into my basal memory.
John Franklin & Siddie Chipman Noyes Tombstone – Am. Fork, UT When taking volunteer photos for Find-a-grave, I encountered the tombstones of both of these doctors and their families.  When I later posted the days photos to the FAG site, I was surprised to find  that no one had posted photos to their memorials yet.

These men were ‘institutions’ in town for three or four generations of families.

John Franklin Noyes marker Later, while scanning photos for family histories, I came across the photos of each of these doctors that my mother had clipped from newspapers.  Looking at them brought back memories from my youth and spurred interest in the Noyes ancestry.
Kenneth Noyes MD headstoneKenneth and Leona Field Noyes tombstone  -American Fork, Utah Surprisingly, I found that some of their ancestors lived in the same small area in Leeds, Ontario, Canada at the same time as my ancestors.  Both families joined the early LDS Church and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois just in time to be persecuted by mobs and driven out of their homes in the dead of winter.  Their ancestors survived that experience.  Several of mine did not.

The unusual death certificate.  Dr. Noyes certifying the death of his father, Dr. Noyes.

Both families eventually settled in the same small town in Utah.  Children from the families intermarried, but over the years and generations that history was forgotten.

These families had survived the same causality events, but their occupational paths diverted.  One became farmers the other doctors.

How many people do we encounter in our lives that have ties to us?  When filling in the ‘color’ of the stories in our family history, there are probably more than any of us realize.

30 August 2010 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy, History | , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

19 July 2010 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy | , , | Leave a comment

Saving Death Certificates

If any of your family members died in Missouri between 1910 and 1959, their death certificate should now be online.  The state sent notification out this week that they have added the range of available certificates up to 1959 … an increase of ten years coverage. 

Several other states also offer death certificates online as well.  At least four of them are:

There is no cost to print them on your home printer.  They have put the images online as a kindness to genealogists and to avoid as much of the copying and associated labor expense as possible.

I use the free Irfanview editor to massage the image.  I recommend downloading and installing the Plugin’s too.  (Yes, there are many other excellent image editors available …  I use them too, but Ifranview works the best for me in this application.)

Simply point at the death certificate on your screen, right mouse click and choose "Copy".

Then click on Irfanview to make it the active program, then on ‘Edit’ at the top of the screen and choose ‘Paste’ from the drop down list.

You now have a copy of the image in the temporary memory of your computer.

Straighten the image if needed by using the Image > Custom Fine Rotation tool.  This tool is in degrees and there are 360 degrees in a circle.  Entering 358.3 will tilt the image 1.7 degrees to the left, etc.

When it is straight, point to the top left corner of the image, hold your left mouse button down and drag your pointer to the bottom right corner (just the opposite if you are left handed).  You can now see the crop line around the image.  If it needs to be moved a little, slowly move your mouse pointer over the line where it needs to be adjusted and when the pointer symbol changes to two parallel lines, hold the mouse button down again and drag the crop line to the position you want.

Click on Edit > Crop selection and all the edges are cropped.

Next resize the image to something that will print on 8 1/2 x 11" paper.   I always print in portrait orientation so the certificates stand upright in the protective sleeves in my storage binders, but you may want to do something different.  

In my case, I change the width to 8"     Image > Resize/Resample > Set New Size > Units = Inches > change the width to 8".  Be sure that the "Preserve aspect ratio" has a check in it.

While on this page, I typically change the resolution to 72 dpi rather than the 300 dpi used in the original image.   There is little to no readability lost and for these images, that is ok.  This saves drive space.  Try it both ways and see how it works best for you.   You’ll quickly develop a rule of thumb for images of this nature and it will usually be very different from the one you use for photo images, etc.

You may need to tweak the image for readability now too.   Tools > Color Corrections.

I save a copy of the image now.   File > Save As  (surname firstname deathcertificate) in my genealogy documents folder.   I always use the surname first when file naming so the images are automatically sorted by family making a future look up easy.

Print a hard copy   File > Print

Don’t forget to transcribe the data from the death certificate as a source in your database …  Primary source for the Death and Burial and Secondary source for the Birth…

Also tie the image you just saved to the source record for the person.  If you are using Legacy for example, it will show up as a thumbnail image by the source text in reports.

 

From now on, you can look at the image from within your genealogy application …. typically by clicking on it and then on the ‘Open; or ‘View’ button  ..  or by double clicking on it.

The image in this example just filled my 4th 3" binder of Death Certificates.   I’ll teach you how to number and index them for easy retrieval in another post.

25 March 2010 Posted by | Certificates | , | Leave a comment

Just Try Another Window

While trying to help one of my wife’s cousins find a remarkably hard to find Utah Death Certificate online today, I noted a new feature that has been added to the Utah Death Certificate Index.

We know that census records often contain spellings that are a best effort by the census taker, either because they couldn’t spell, didn’t hear the name clearly or wrote exactly what was said in the brogue of the speaker.

Unfortunately, that same rule also applies to some degree with early death certificates.

In this case, my wife’s 4th great grandfathers name is Lars Mouritsen.  I finally found his death certificate under Mountsen.

Growling about the number of spelling combination’s I’d tried to that point, another thought came to mind…..

Checking my database, I noted that we didn’t have a copy of the death certificate for his wife, Maren Sorensdatter Mouritsen.   I couldn’t imagine why I’d forgotten to get it long ago but as soon as I started to search for it, I discovered the reason.    The culprit was another spelling ‘opportunity’.

After twenty minutes of fruitless searching, I finally manually went to the Utah Death Certificate Index page looking for a ‘hints’ link.  (yes, ladies, men will eventually abase themselves to the point that they read instructions).

Fortunately, I was able to forgo that fate.  A new set of search fields has been added to the index page that allows searches by death day, month and year as well as by county.

As you can see from the screen cap of the way Maren’s name was written on her death certificate, there was little chance that I would find it ….  who knows how the indexer read it, let alone the fact that she was apparently called by a nickname, “Maria”.

Sorensdatter Maren Mouritsen Death Certificate name entry

The new search fields, allowed me to simply enter Maren’s death date and Cache county in the fields and bingo…. we now have a copy of her remarkably incomplete death certificate….

Utah Burials Index search by date

So, if you have problems finding the death certificate for your family member in the Utah Death Certificate Index, don’t bother reading the instructions.  Just scroll down the page a little and use the dates and or county fields to resolve your quest.

Men ….  you are welcome….   the tragedy of having to read instructions is avoided yet again…

20 September 2009 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem With Primary Source Documents

We know that primary source documents always are desired to assist in proving our lineage.  Can we count on their accuracy?

Drew Helen Marr Farrar death certificate_72dpi The answer is NO.  They frequently contain errors.  Dates are wrong.  Locations are frequently wrong.  Names are wrong or misspelled.   Why does this happen?

Looking at my great grandmother’s death certificate, I immediately noticed that her name was different than the one written in various publications and family records.

Great Grandma’s birth name was “Helen Marr Farrar”, yet the name listed on the certificate is “Helen Mary Drew”.  Did the recorder hear the information wrong or accidentally write a name frequently used in his family?

That is one possibility.  I make the same error at times.  However, her certificate offers a greater clue to the problem.  The informant listed on the certificate is “Lula H. Johnson”.  For some reason, great grandma’s death information was given to authorities by her niece rather than by any of her six children that lived in the area.

Can you provide the full birth name, birth date and parents names for your aunts and uncles from memory?  Not many of us can.  Lula, was probably helping the family take care of ‘foot work’ while the children arranged the funeral, burial and mourned the loss of their mother.

We know that the birth information listed on a death certificate is suspect.  It came from someone’s memory.  The only facts that should be correct on the certificate are the name, death date and place and burial date and place and even they are ‘suspect’.

The birth information and even the parents names on death certificates are secondary sources at best.

One of the key indicators that grandma’s name was Helen Marr was a letter from her “family historian” granddaughter that states that great grandma was named after her mothers sister, Helen Marr Tirrill.

Wondering if “Marr” was a rare name in that day, I searched for others that may have had that name and was surprised  how frequently it was used.  A misspelling was undoubtedly less of a factor than I initially suspected.

Errors abound in the birth and death certificates that I’ve found for my family.  In fact, they are more common than not.

My aunt died as a young child in the now non-existent town of Knightsville, Utah.  My grandparents lived in the area when grandpa had a wagon and horse team hauling supplies and anything else needed between Salt Lake City and the remote mining towns in Juab county.

Drew Gladys death certificate_sm The informant listed on Gladys’ certificate was my grandfather but unfortunately, the registrar, Mr. E. J. Howell incorrectly recorded her burial location.  It states that aunt Gladys was buried in the American Fork, Utah cemetery, yet she and her baby sister are actually buried side-by-side in the family plot in the Alpine cemetery.

Was she initially buried in American Fork and later moved to Alpine?  No.  Her uncle Charles and aunt Ada were buried on the plot in 1901 and 1904 respectively.  Two other aunts and an uncle died as babies and were buried on the family farm in the late 1880’s – early 1890’s, so the family didn’t own the cemetery plot then, but by the time their eldest son was buried in 1901, they owned or had purchased the lot.

Gladys was buried in Alpine not in American Fork.  The “primary source” information on her death certificate is wrong.

I wonder how many errors exist in the thousands of certificate that that I’ve collected over the years yet don’t have enough other information to cause me to suspect errors in them.  There are probably quite a few, but since I know that even “Primary” source documents frequently contain errors, I still list them in my databases with the highest level of confidence.  What else can be considered a “Primary Source Document”?

You have the same problem in your own source documents.  Don’t let it throw you.  Don’t obstinately argue over minor factual differences with other researchers.  Establish a rule in your negotiations with others declaring that the primary source documents are the base used for accuracy but that codicil statements can be added to that knowledge to argue or exhibit additional information to consider in the decision of the ‘true facts’ associated with the record of your family member.

7 June 2009 Posted by | Birth Certificate, Death Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Primary Source Documents | , , , | Leave a comment