Friday, July 23, 2010

Docu-Challenge: Charles W. Player death certificate

Death Certificate - Charles W. Player, 18 April 1913,
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.
NOTE: To view added analysis and the announcement of the winner -- please click here.

Death certificates are one of the basic records to collect on an ancestor, particularly those who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century. The US federal government required all jurisdictions to maintain records of birth, marriage and deaths beginning in 1920. However, public vital records created by local or state governments vary in format and content from state to state. Unfortunately there is no universal form or central vital records authority for the entire US. Find out more about who has the records for your ancestor's locality by visiting

Some places your ancestors lived have records that survive from hundreds of years prior to that 1920 mandate. Vital records of towns in Connecticut come to mind here.

Genealogists jump on a death certificate such as this, and indeed it IS exciting to find any document that mentions an ancestor. But we should remember that no single document tells the complete story of an ancestor. Additional documents from the time period will round out our understanding.

So, we're going to look at this death certificate, Charles W. PLAYER, a great-grand uncle on my father's side of the family tree. We must train ourselves to look for strengths and weaknesses of the information provided. Click the document to view a larger version of the scanned image. It may help to transcribe the document. (Transcribe means "word for word" and is the opposite of making an abstract.)

1. List the MOST reliable info on the death certificate. Explain your reasoning.
2. List the LEAST reliable info on the death certificate. Explain your reasoning.
3. What conclusions might be drawn by the addresses of the deceased and the informant?
4. List other record groups this death certificate points you to consider in additional research.

You'll find assistance in this DocuChallenge by reading Val D. Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy which may be available at your local public library if it has a genealogy section.

ALL RESPONSES are to be posted as comments to the blog entry, and NOT sent via email to Ol' Myrt here. Entries will be judged 14 August 2010 at midnight. The judge reserves the right to reject entries, and the decision of the judge is final.

The winner of the "Docu-Challenge: Charles W. Player death certificate" will receive a copy of Val Greenwood's book for his or her personal library. The book will be shipped on or about 15 August 2010 from Ol' Myrt's "satellite offices" at to a US address only.

So, DearREADERS, go forth and dissect the death certificate. Let's see what you come up with.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.