Saturday, December 10, 2005

Incomplete copies of official records

From: AM Coke
DearMYRTLE,
I don't recall this subject having previously been addressed anywhere, so I thought I'd present it to you for your comments.

Recently, in the course of assembling my documentation materials for DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] membership, I became aware that the "official" birth and death certificates I had ordered were virtually useless for establishing the true identity of the persons named thereon.

The reason for this is that frequently information is [ABSTRACTED] from the original record and [written] to a form which is printed out and purports to be a 'certified' record of the event. This is far different from a photocopy of the true record completed at the time (or nearly close to) of the event.

In addition, very often the forms used do not offer the possibility for entering information critical to the genealogist - such as who the informant might have been, maiden name for females, etc.

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SOME OF MY RECENT EXPERIENCES WITH THIS PROBLEM
HAVE BEEN:
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-- When requesting a birth certificate for my daughter in the Cook County, Illinois clerk's office, I was asked "Do you want the parents' names on the certificate?" !! The explanation given was that the information is computer-generated and most people only want the barest of information. If you want ALL available information, a different procedure is required.

-- When I recently requested a death certificate for my 2-great grandmother's sister from the Salt Lake City Department of Health, I was given one of these 'abbreviated' certificates. Fortunately, I was in Salt Lake City at the time and was able to go to the STATE records office to obtain a photocopy of the original record.

-- A request for my mother's death certificate (she died in 1994) had only date, place, cause of death, and which undertaker handled the cremation arrangements. No maiden name, whether married or single, birthplace, or other genealogical information. In a phone call to the issuing institution, I was told that this was the ONLY form used, and that it was NOT possible to obtain a photocopy.

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IN TWO OF THE CASES ABOVE...
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I happened to be onsite, but imagine requesting these documents by mail and not knowing the differences. Of course, possibly, mail requests are treated differently - especially when 'genealogy' is given as the reason for the request. Most likely, however, government employees being what they are, probably the 'usual' procedures are followed.

My problem with these procedures leads me to think that the computer age is the cause. When one thinks about how computers have so richly enhanced and simplified the family historian's ability to root out information, we bless them, but when they short-change us, we cuss them.

Perhaps it would be advisable to determine exactly what kind of record will be generated BEFORE sending a check for documents?

Who knew?

Thanks for allowing me to vent my frustrations.

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DearAM,
Personally I LOVE government workers, since one of my best friends is a retired federal employee. But I know what you mean. Those who are NOT genealogists simply cannot understand why we're interrupting the daily flow of work to request documents on a dead person, UNLESS it involves a probate file on the current docket.

Also there are simply NO "ALL EARTH" UNIVERSAL FORMS (whether or not computer-generated) to document births, marriages or deaths. Each government entity that has jurisdiction, tends to make up its own rules for when to start keeping records, when to comply with federal requirements, and just how to maintain these vital records. Some now make older records available through the internet, as they understand that public records are indeed public records. Other jurisdictions have put them under lock and key, and worry too much about giving anyone access.

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THE BEST OL' MYRT can tell you is...
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Obtain a photocopy of the original or, failing that, request a "certified complete TRANSCRIPT" not EXTRACT/ABSTRACT of the birth, marriage or death record. A transcript is what the attorneys order when working probates, etc. Even so, in some US states, the cause of death will be blackened out. That makes it hard for us to compile a medical family history.

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Dick Eastman's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GENEALOGY [EOG]
explains a transcript...
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"A transcript or transcription is a literal copy of another document. The copy is as faithful to the original as possible. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are included in their original form even if there are errors or usage that does not match present-day practice. Transcripts may or may not reproduce the original letter spacing and line breaks. In the digital age, transcripts are usually created on a computer: transcripts stored in digital form are easier to search, store in databases, re-print, etc. Some transcription guidelines can be found at Cole & Altenhoff Genealogy under transcription. A photocopy, microfilm image, or scanned digital image of a document is not a transcript. They are copies. They are closer to the original form of the document but automated searching is typically not available or is performed with the aid of a transcript or abstract. -- See Abstract and Extract."
http://www.eogen.com/_Index

Contrast this with the EOG's explanation of the term EXTRACT, which ol' Myrt here prefers to call an ABSTRACT.

"An extract is a literal copy of a portion of a document. The copy is as faithful to the original as possible. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are included in their original form even if there are errors or usage that does not match present-day practice. An extract is not the same as a transcript; an extract includes only a portion of the document whereas a transcript is a copy of the entire document." IBID.

Note the key phrase for extract is "portion of a document."

ALSO REMEMBER to obtain more than one document to substantiate lineage assumptions. The records with evidence of ancestors' lives and relationships were not designed with genealogists in mind. Consequently, we must collect a wide range of documents, note plausible inferences and draw conclusions. THAT is the FUN of this work! By comparison, the NY Times daily crossword puzzles are a snap, especially since the answers appear in the next issue.

I must admit, though, that Ol' Myrt wishes she knew which crystal ball has the information on Dolly Yockey's parents.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
DearMYRTLE,
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207
http://www.DearMYRTLE.com

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