Let's consider that the death date & time, death place, cause of death
and attending physician's signature -- as well as the state department
of heath certificate number are perhaps the most reliable parts of the death
certificate, under normal circumstances.
However, even the name of the individual could be misconstrued, if the man
died out of town and the physician had not regularly attended him in the
past. This could be particularly true where the individual had no next
of kin to stipulate the correct name in full. My own step-grandfather
and his twin were known as Pat and Mike McDonnell during their adult life, as
documents were being created. I had the devil of a time getting Mike's
correct birth certificate from the state of Washington until I was informed by
Pat's son that they were born Dave and Dana McDonnell.
The name of the funeral home is also considered "very reliable"
since its representatives take custody of the body once it is released from
The name of the cemetery SOUNDS likely until we realize that as society
"progresses" cemeteries are sometimes covered over to make room for
housing developments, shopping malls and to provide access to interstate
highways. The remains may or may not be removed to a newer cemetery
across town. You'll have to verify that the cemetery still exists.
There have also been so-called "clean-ups" of local cemeteries,
where the tombstones were temporarily moved to the side to facilitate
regrading of the land, only to be "neatly" replaced in alphabetical
This category of reliability includes the information about the birthdate
and place and parent's info. Remember that the informant's relationship
to the deceased does not necessarily increase the likelihood of
reliability. For instance, a grieving widow might make honest mistakes
when providing the data requested typically by the funeral home. She has
gone through the first shock of losing her spouse, has just completed the
choosing of his casket, and the arrangements for music, speakers and prayers
at his funeral. She has hit her limit! And now they need info for
the obituary and death certificate?!
All information in the "questionable" category must be verified
through some other source documentation. Look for as much "first
hand" information as possible. For instance, a death certificate's
mention of a birth date is "second hand" evidence, because it is
removed from the birth event by a number of years. The mother and her
midwife or attending physician are not normally there to verify the
A normal birth certificate would be considered "first hand"
information, contrasting sharply with a birth announcement in the local
newspaper. Published a few weeks after the happy arrival of the stork,
such announcements are considered "second hand" information because
of more than the time delay. The newspaper typesetter and editor are not
usually the parents of the child, so again, innocent, human errors could
So the old adage CONSIDER THE SOURCE really
rings true when it comes to sound genealogical research!
Your assignment this week has two components:
- Review the Standards for Sound Genealogical Research,
recommended by the National Genealogical Society.
Study RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees - Lesson 12: Creating Worthwhile Genealogies: Evidence, Sources,
Documentation, and Citation
Consult Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian.
It is found on many library shelves, and is available from Genealogical
Publishing Company of Baltimore, MD.
- Look through the family history documents collected so far, and begin to
evaluate the reliability of what you've found. Note discrepancies, thereby
leaving a big audit trail for those who follow! Where there are weak
spots, resolve to find additional documentation for your ancestral
Other Step By Step Lessons appear at: www.DearMYRTLE.com/stepbystep/index.htm
Daily Genealogy Columnist
America Online Keyword: roots or myrtle