Multitasking Your Records

You found a death record for Aunt Aggie.  You now add that to the family tree and continue.  But did you really read the death certificate?  Did you get everything out of it that you could?  What about that marriage record? Did you thoroughly read it?  Did you even notice that it said that the bride was under age 18 and needed her parents’ permission to wed?  If you had, you might worry about the date you currently have for her birth.

A common mistake that I have seen many genealogists make is a simple one:  overlooking the rest of the record.  Every record has its overt purpose. A death record gives you date of death; a birth record gives you birth; a marriage record gives you a wedding date; etc.  However, these records are also chock full of other information.  In the case of a marriage record, while its first purpose is to verify the happy couple were legally married and to give the event a date, you can discover much more.  In many cases, the license may include the parents’ names, the occupations of the couple, and the place where the marriage took place.  It can tell you if the bride and/or groom were of legal age to wed and that can help you narrow in on a birth date.  This information can help you prove or disprove information from other sources.

A birth record not only gives you date of birth, it also the place of birth and the parents’ names.  Perhaps you can find out if there was a twin that did not survive.  If the mother died in childbirth, and records were not well kept in the community, this may be the only way you can prove a date of death for her.  You could verify a family story.  My mother always told me that she was born just as the whistle blew for the first shift to enter the coal mines.  Looking at the record, I discovered that she was right.  As we move from the 19th century to the 20th century, you may uncover the first birth in your family that took place in a hospital.

A death record could be source of great information.  Of course, the obvious reason to seek the document is to find out a death date but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Cause of death could allow you to find a history of certain diseases and conditions that could save your life or the lives of your loved ones.  The certificate may offer more and, depending on who provided the information, you could hit a genealogy jackpot with it.  First, there is a date of birth.  If the deceased was born at a time when birth records were not legally required, this might be the only spot where that date is recorded.  You may be able to get the parents’ names, spouse’s name and whether she/he is still alive.  If you got the death certificate via an online database, searching by names of deceased, this certificate may be the first time you know where death occurred.  If you have not been able to find the tombstone or burial site, this record may list what funeral home received the body and where he/she was buried.

The point of all this is to remind you that when you start to feel stumped about where to turn for more information, look beyond the obvious.  You might discover a birth date from a death record, a parent’s name from a marriage record, and death information from a birth record.  Never stop reading a record until you are sure you have gathered everything you can from it.

Cheers! ~~ Jenn

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