Saturday, May 24, 2008

Rest In Peace
Many novels by James Michener tell a tale of a geographic area. He tells the history of the place starting thousands of years ago continuing on up until the present. Genealogy is a lot like a Michener novel only we go in reverse.

A good place to start in tracing the past is a death certificate. The approximate date of a parent or grandparent's death is usually common knowledge. If we know the City and State, we can make a request through the Sate or City agency holding the records.

Death certificates are useful because they may list the names of the deceased's parents and their place of origin. It may also list the deceased's birth day and spouse's name. You can use this information to look up birth records and find more information. You can also find a match in Census records and learn more about the parents.

For the State of Maryland the last names are indexed and are searchable at the following link: Maryland Death Index. When you find a match, you can print out a form to request the actual death certificate. In Maryland there is a $12.00 fee.

In the case of George Ruth we need to look to New York. Books about Ruth state that his death is on August 16, 1948 in Manhattan. Let us see if that is correct.

Fortunately a trip to New York is unnecessary. We can do this from the Internet. New York City Department of Health and Public Hygiene has site that allows you to request a certified certificate. It also accepts credit cards. You can fill in your request for pre-1949 certificates at the Link: NY DHPH. You don't have to be related for certificates this old.

The citation is: Death Certificate for George Herman Ruth, 16 August 1948, Certificate No. 18226, New York Department of Health, Manhattan. Certified copy in possession of BabeRuthGenealogy.

As you can see there is a lot of information other than the date of death such as Address, Occupation, Birthday and place, Spouse's name, Parent's name and birthplace, Place of Burial and the Name of the informant.

Death certificates are a good place to start in a backward journey. We go from what we know to what we don't know. However, the information is only as good as the informant's memory. The most accurate fact is the date and place of death. Birthdays are usually accurate but may be off by a year. Parent's names are usually accurate but may not account for remarriage or use of Middle names as Given names.

Now is a good time to point out a difference between Primary and Secondary sources.

A Primary source is recorded close to the event it is citing. A Secondary source is removed from the event. In the case of a death certificate, it is a Primary source in reporting the death date and place. However, it is a Secondary source in providing information about birthdays and parents. We should take secondary source information "with a grain of salt".

In the case of George's actual date of birth, we will find this to be true!


The image at the top of this posting is sponsored by and the link for George Ruth is:



James Michener

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