11 March 2009, Vol. 12, No. 3
Table of Contents
Using RootsWeb
Genealogy Tip
Connecting
Bottomless Mailbag:
Readers Write In
Advertisements
What’s New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
The Darkroom
You Found It
Subscriptions, Submissions,
Advertising, and Reprints
RootsWeb Resources
RootsWeb Helpdesk
Check here for frequently asked questions about RootsWeb.
RootsWeb Newsroom
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RootsWeb Review Archives
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Using Rootsweb

By Mary Harrell-Sesniak
"Genealogy is not just a pastime; it's a passion."

What's on a Death Certificate?

When requesting death certificates, you may be surprised by the “depth or dearth” of information recorded. Death certificates were not always required and were rare before the late 1800s.

Early information is reconstructed from a variety of sources--manuscript books, civil registrations, cemetery records, parish records, etc. Town clerks or recorders issue certificates from available information, which often lacks genealogical details, such as a surviving spouse, parentage, cause of death, and burial location.

This example from 1810 shows Seth Wilder, Jr.'s death in Cummington, Massachusetts, and little else. When ordered in 1965, a similar death certificate would typically include parental names, birth places, and occupation, which were all left blank on the 1913 form.

Until recently, each location, whether it be a country, state, county, or city, followed its own format. In 1961, the State of New York furnished this numbered certificate for Rev. Zerah T. Hoyt, certifying his death in Saratoga Springs on August 29, 1901.

In 1917, Duval County, Florida required an address, age at death, informant, and place of burial or removal. In the case of John Thomas Wilder, who died on January 31, the informant was his second wife, Dora (Lee) Wilder, recorded only as Mrs. John T. Wilder. The document noted he was returned to Chattanooga, but did not specify the cemetery, which was Forest Hills.

Death certificates evolved over time and now display more than thirty details, including military service, social security number, and education. (See Form PHS-T-003 from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

  1. Decedent's name
  2. Sex
  3. Date of death
  4. Social Security Number
  5. Age
  6. Birthplace
  7. U.S. Armed Forces?
  8. Place of death
  9. Marital status
  10. Surviving spouse (if wife, give maiden name)
  11. Occupation
  12. Residence
  13. Hispanic origin?
  14. Race
  15. Education
  16. Father
  17. Mother
  18. Informant's name / address
  19. Method / place of disposition
  20. Signature / license of funeral service
  21. Name and address of facility
  22. Signature, pronouncing physician, and date signed
  23. Time of death
  24. Date death pronounced
  25. Referred to medical examiner / coroner?
  26. Diseases, injuries, or complications that caused death
  27. Autopsy?
  28. Manner of death
  29. Date, time, description and place, if injury
  30. Certifier or certifying physician, license, date, and signature
  31. Name / address of who completed cause
  32. Registrar's signature
  33. Date filed

But wouldn't it be nice if in the next generation of death certificates, genealogical data was expanded? I, for one, would like to see surviving children, number of marriages, living and recorded will data, and the relationship of the informant to the decedent!

Pitfalls and Tips

  1. A death certificate is not primary proof for a decedent's birth or parentage, so seek confirming documents. Remember items “recorded” at the time of the death, such as the date and cause, are primary sources, but those “reported” later by an informant are secondary.
  2. To determine the veracity of the reported items, identify the informant. The closer the familial relationship, the more likely the accuracy.
  3. If parentage is not identified, cross reference with a sibling. Granville Harrell's mother was not identified on his certificate, but it was on his brother William's.
  1. If a female informant's surname differs from the decedent’s, she may be a married daughter.
  2. Adoptive parents can be erroneously indicated as birth parents. The parents of Edgar Hanks Evans, nee Edmund Hanks, were reported as George T. Evans and Mary Robertson Evans, whereas his birth parents were Jesse Turner Hanks and Mary Jane Olmsted.
  1. Cross reference causes of death with current terms. Shaking palsy, for example, may indicate Parkinson's disease. (See RootsWeb's Medical Genealogy Mailing List for tips.)
  2. Burials may be recorded by a town name, and not a cemetery, and since town names change, do your homework.
  3. When ordering death certificates, you can save time by using a service, but you can save money by ordering directly from a registrar.
  4. Some states centralize ordering at the state level and others at the locality where the death occurred. If a county name changed, verify before sending money to the wrong location, as refunds may not be issued.
  5. Collect certificates as soon as possible, as costs are increasing and privacy laws may affect your right to order.

Some excellent sources for finding death records and information are:

  1. RootsWeb's Death Records Database. This has a variety of search options, and readers are welcome to contribute their research via a text file or Excel database.
  2. Ancestry.com at www.Ancestry.com, a subscription service with multiple indexes to death records and some original death certificates.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which has a free pilot website and their main web site. The pilot includes original, digitized records, while the main site has links to family trees and records stored at family history centers around the country.
  4. England and Wales's Free BMD (Birth/Marriage/Death) database, which is part of the FreeUKGen family. This database includes an index to many of the death records kept by the English and Welsh governments since 1837.
  5. Search engines or Google Books.


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Genealogy Tip

By Joan Young

Translating and Deciphering Documents

As you progress in tracing your family history, you will eventually encounter one or more of the following stumbling blocks:
 
1) Documents in languages with which you are not familiar,
2) Correspondence from cousins written in a foreign language,
3) Tombstone inscriptions you cannot translate or interpret, or
4) Old script or handwriting in an unfamiliar writing style.
 
ONLINE TRANSLATION PROGRAMS AND RESOURCES
 
One of the oldest and most popular online translation services is Babel Fish.

Google also offers a translation service from and into many languages:

A translation program such as those found at Babel Fish or Google will most likely not provide a perfect translation of the text you input, especially where slang is involved or where the text may include misspellings or obsolete terminology. These programs may, however, be sufficient to offer a clue to the meaning of an e-mail you have received from a potential cousin or the subject matter of a document.

RootsWeb/Ancestry.com has a message board where you can ask for help with a translation.  Experienced translators may be able to assist in situations where the online translation programs are not sufficient.

DECIPHERING OLD SCRIPT AND HANDWRITING

Old script (for example, old German script), foreign language vital records, church registers in Latin, or merely old handwriting styles with lettering that differs from today's writing can be a challenge.

Scan the document and post it on a Web page or message board. The RootsWeb/Ancestry.com message boards allow uploading scanned documents and images as attachments. Post your query and attachment on a message board with a topic relevant to your document.

Subscribe to a RootsWeb mailing list where the subject matter of your translation or interpretation request is pertinent. Post a message with a link to the attachment and query on the message board. List members with experience in reading these documents can view them and render an opinion as to the wording and meaning.
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Connecting
Keep Writing and Calling

I had been searching for 15 years for my great great grandfather, John Courtenay, who had arrived in America as a child with his father and stepmother between 1803 and 1813.  They went to the English Prairie settlement in White Co, Illinois.  I finally found them on a 1820 census. Yipee!.  I had heard that they lived at one time in a place called Belgrade, IL, so I wrote to the state and asked where I could find this town.  Finally heard that the town was defunct, but was actually located in Pope County during the time they would have been there.  GREAT.   I wrote to Pope County and received information on the town but NO information was found on the COURTENAY family.

I would call or write to the County several times a year for about 15 years.  After all the years I had called and written, one day, out of the blue, I received a phone call.  Am I the person who had been calling and writing and was I still looking for family information.  YES, YES, YES!   I was told they had a minor flood in the basement of the old Golconda, Pope County courthouse and had found boxes and boxes of old documents that had never been put into their system.  Well, I finally got family information.  In those boxes they found a license to marry for my great great grandmother Miranda FISKE and John Courtenay (Courtney) in 1823.  And who should be marrying them but her father, Abraham FISKE, a Justice of the Peace.  They also had the original handwritten Last Will and Testament for John H. Courtenay, the father of John, dated 1824. 

In those wonderful boxes were other town and county records.  Abraham Fiske's father Robert Fiske was listed in several of the records, along with John Courtney, as Supervisors of Roads and as witnesses in several matters.

Robert Fiske and John H. Courtenay both died in 1824, but I have not yet found grave sites for either one.  I will keep digging. 

This just goes to show you, that eventually you will find some small measure of information.  Keep writing and calling.  YOU NEVER KNOW what might happen.
Patricia Rankin
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Bottomless Mailbag: Readers Write In
Email Address

In last month’s RootsWeb Review, Connie Trier recommended using free web-based email services for your genealogical email so that should she move her email address would not change.

Beware:  My Hotmail address was cancelled when it was inactive for 30 days.  With such a rigorous requirement, you may shortly find yourself cancelled and someone else getting your e-mail address.  Before you make this decision, check with the providers to determine what their terms are.

Judy, in the Pacifc Northwest

A Good Samaritan

While working in the Family History Library in Topeka, Kansas, I received a telephone call from a gentleman in California stating that he was not able to secure any help from anyone in our town and wondered if I might help him.  He said he was born in either March or April in 1953 and that he knew his fathers name but not his mother’s.  He had been given to another couple when he was four years old, with the request that his name not be changed. 

He wished to find the date of his birth.  I told him to call back the following Saturday, since this is was only day that I work, and I would try to have some information for him.  At the public library newspaper files I spent about 15 minutes scanning the pages in the newspaper files and found his father’s name with the birth date.  However, at that time, births were only reported with a Mr & Mrs and the name of the husband as having a child.  Then I went to the Social Security Death Index to try to locate his father who he had heard had gone west.  I found four possibilities for him listed in his state and not very far from where he lived.  He thanked me very much and was grateful to have his accurate birth date.  I also told him to contact someone at those addresses or the neighbors and he might find someone that had a connection to him.  Sadly, I have to say that I did not hear back from him, but what a feeling to know I was able to help someone so far away.

Patsy R. Finley
Burlingame, Kansas

A Late Starter

If someone had told me 20 years I would be doing genealogy research, I would have said, Yeah Right.

One of my Mother's cousins was updating their family history in 1998, which inspired me to start on my Father's family.  One of my biggest finds was the military pay/pension records on my great-grandfather who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.  Later, my Father and I visited the cemetery where great grandpa is buried and found his grave.  This provided closure on one of the aspects of my project.

RootsWeb and many others have been of great assistance to me in this endeavor.  My greatest satisfaction was being able to produce information for my Father prior to his death last year.  I still have much to learn, but what a wonderful way to learn.

Becky Wilson

Have a story, question, genealogy resource, or tip you'd like to share with RootsWeb Review readers? Send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

Editor's note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editor or of RootsWeb.com.

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What's New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
New User-contributed Databases at RootsWeb

None

Submit Your Genealogical Data to a RootsWeb Database.

New/Updated Freepages by Individuals

History Connection is a web site for biographies, obituaries, books, newspapers, schools, cemeteries, photos and historical articles from Peoria and Stark Counties in Illinois, and Fond du Lac County in Wisconsin.

If you have a new or substantially revised freepage at RootsWeb and would like to see it mentioned here, send the URL, the title, and a BRIEF description, including major surnames, to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

If your genealogy- or history-related site is located somewhere other than RootsWeb, you can add the link to RootsWeb here.

Request a Freepage (Free Web Account).

New/Updated Freepages by Counties, States, and Historical Societies

ALHN = American Local History Network
CAR = Children of the American Revolution
DAR = Daughters of the American Revolution

U.S.A.

  • almcgs — Marion County (AL) Genealogical Society
  • azpinal2 — Pinal County (AZ)
  • cacalav — Family Roots, a genealogy group in Calaveras Co., CA
  • cttpcdar — Trumbull-Porter Chapter (CT) DAR
  • gaccaahm — Coweta County (GA) African American Heritage Museum
  • gaharal3 — Haralson County Chap (GA) ALHN
  • ilahgp — AHGP State Site (Illinois)
  • inahgp — AHGP State Site (Indiana)
  • insvhs — St. Vincent de Paul (IN) Historical Society
  • mdhrscar — Hungerford Resolves Society (MD) CAR
  • nyerie2 — Erie County (NY) personal site
  • nyjw1812 — Lt. Colonel John E. Wool Chap (NY) Sons of War of 1812
  • mdnandar — Manticoke Chap (MD) DAR
  • ohbrgen — Black River (OH) Genealogists
  • okclcdar — Creek Lands Chapter (OK) DAR
  • orhhsm — Huntington (OR) Historical Society Museum
  • tnfahps — Friends of the Archives Historical and Preservation Society (TN)
  • txcem — Texas Cemetery Transcriptions and Images
  • txscw — Society of Colonial Wars (TX)
  • wvtadar — Trans-Allegheny Chapter (WV) DAR

International

  • ausvmddhs — Mount Dandenong and District (Victoria, Australia) Historical Society
  • acma — Alberni Clayoquot Metis Association (British Columbia)
  • nglpcopc — Little Petherick (Cornwall, England) Online Parish Clerk
  • ctkkdfc — Kirkcudbrightshire (Scotland) FreeCen Project
  • uklancs — Lancashire (England) Look Up Exchange
  • kderby — Derbyshire (England) Look Up Exchange
  • wlsponths — Pontnewynydd (Wales) History Society

Some of these Web pages might not be accessible yet. They are created by volunteers, so if one that interests you isn't up yet, please check again in a few days or next week.
www.rootsweb.com/~xxxxxx

Note that the ~[tilde] before the Web account name is required.
For example, the American History and Genealgy Project (Indiana) website is at
http://www.rootsweb.com/~inahgp/

Request a Freepage (Free Web Account).

 
New Mailing Lists

New Surname Mailing Lists

New Regional Mailing Lists

New Ethnic or Special Interest Mailing Lists

  • APG-NEW-ENGLAND — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG) and its activities.

    AUS-NEWSPAPERS-DIGITALIZATION-PROJECT — This mailing list is for use of the Australian Newspapers Digitalization Project an important new genealogical and historical resource that is digitizing all Historic Australian Newspapers, 1803 to 1954. A discussion list for people who are transcribing,

    ENG-MIDDLESEX-CRIMINALS — A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in people who were convicted criminals in MIDDLESEX County, England.

    VA-FALLING-RIVER-GROUP-DNA — A mailing list to bring together all surnames that fall under the Falling River Group around Campbell County, VA.  Unique to the plague of 1800's surviving orphans names were changed after adoption.

    WOODNUTT-DNA — This mailing list is for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Y-chromosome DNA project currently being done for the Woodnutt surname and variations (e.g., Woodnut, Woodnett, Woodnoth) worldwide.

To find or subscribe to a mailing list, or to search archived posts to more than 30,000 RootsWeb-hosted genealogy mailing lists, go here.

Request a Mailing List.

The Darkroom

This is a picture of Edward Heselton and his wife Hannah Jane Swinburn, my great grandparents, holding my father, Felix Heselton Lazarowitch.  This was taken in Scarborough, Yorkshire c 1897. Edward led a most interesting life. As a second mate he was involved in two ship wrecks. He he was partially blamed for one which happened in Surat Bay, New Zealand. In this picture he wears the uniform of an Inspector working for the Corporation of Scarborough.

Submitted by Ed Heselton, Florida

For a chance to see your ancestor's photo in the RootsWeb Review, send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com. Make sure to include your name and a brief description of the photograph.

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You Found It
She Really Was

While searching through Ancestry.com's index of original death records for Kentucky (1852-1953), I found the parents for Elizabeth Penn listed as: father: Ben Sinclair  -- mother: "Shewasa Griffith".

Thinking "Shewasa" was rather odd for a first name, I brought up the original record and it really read "she was a" Griffith.

name withheld
Anticipation

"When I die I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather...NOT screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car!"
Found at freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cochran/leafingaround.htm

Thanks to Amy Wilson
You Should

In 1930 Otta B Weaver was living in Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California. He was an editor, but perhaps he wasn’t happy with that job??

His name really was Otta. He was also listed in the voters registration.

Thanks to Connie Trier

Found a funny name or humorous tidbit in old records, or an amusing entry in census, parish, church, or other records? Send these and other genealogy-related humor/humour items to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

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Submissions
The RootsWeb Review does not publish or answer genealogical queries, and the editor regrets that she is unable to provide any personal research assistance or advice.

RootsWeb Review welcomes short (500 words or less) articles, humor, stories, or letters, and reserves the right to edit all submissions. The announcement of books and products is provided as a community service and is not an endorsement in any way. Pictures for "The Darkroom" should be at least 72 dpi, preferably jpgs.

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Reprints
Permission to reprint articles from RootsWeb Review is granted unless specifically stated otherwise, provided:

  1. the reprint is used for non-commercial, educational purposes; and
  2. the following notice appears at the end of the article: Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 11 March 2009, Vol. 12, No. 3