Sunday, August 15, 2010

Winner of Docu-Challenge: Death certificate analysis

Ol' Myrt here sends out a great big THANK-YOU to those who studied last month's Docu-Challenge: Charles W. Player's Death Certificate. Death certificates are among the first original government documents we encounter as family historians.

What follows is a brief analysis of the responses received, including additional research suggestions. Though your ancestors may not have lived in the same places or belonged to the same church, you should complete a time line of each ancestors life, comparing that with the record groups surviving in the area at the same time. This provides a foundation for your reasonably exhaustive research.  See Genealogical Proof Standard, Board for Certification of Genealogists (r).

Barbara J. Mathews, CG couldn't have said it better "The most reliable information would be the date, location, and cause of death as provided by the doctor who signed the certificate." The doctor  was acting in his official capacity and had no apparent reason for fudging the info on the document.

Barbara also points to the curious practice in Salt Lake City of referring the decedent's residence street as 2nd West, when it is really 200 West. Sometimes there is no rhyme nor reason how streets are named, numbered or affectionately referred to in the local community. See DearMYRTLE's Disregard that Street Sign.

Difficult-to-decipher handwriting led to Barbara's suggestion that the informant's name was Mrs. Amagina Player. Other documents collected in my research prove her name to be Amazina -- an equally unusual name. This name challenge illustrates the importance of obtaining other documents mentioning our ancestors. Out of the mouths of two or three witnesses...

Along this same line of thinking, Docu-challenge participant JK explains "Other records I would look for would be an obituary if one could be found to confirm whether the informant is his wife or someone else, again since he could've been living with one of his children. The census records, specifically the 1900 census would help confirm whether the informant was his wife; it might also establish the month of birth, though that isn't always the case. Earlier census records might establish the place of birth of his parents. Finding the cemetery records, and whether or not the cemetery itself is still under the name listed on the certificate, would also confirm his marital status. Probate records and a last will would give names of other relatives including siblings. Finding a marriage record would also help along with a death certificate for his wife."

From Docu-Challenge participant Justina we read: "Any of the information that did not revolve directly around the death would be more suspect (name, date and place of birth, parents names and birthplaces, age).

While his name should be accurate since it was provided by someone with the same last name who presumably knew him well enough to know his name, there’s still a chance that his name is not listed accurately. The information about his birthdate and age would hopefully at least give an accurate birth day with the year still being suspect (assuming he was in the habit of celebrating his birthday in some fashion every year). 

The information on his birthplace and his parents’ names and birthplaces would be subject to whatever he told the informant and how well she remembered the information. As the information is very specific, I would give more credence to it while keeping in mind that it may not be entirely accurate."

I am glad that no one assumed Amazina was Charles' wife, though ultimately other records prove they were married. Amazina didn't walk across the plains with her Mormon pioneer in-laws. She and Charles were married in Salt Lake City some 20+ years after the great westward migration. However, Amazina likely knew her in-laws names independently of what her husband had told her.

As to the birth date, the decedent's wife wasn't present at her husband's birth, so that is a matter of hearsay. (Remember my maternal grandmother never divulged her true birth year to her second husband.)

Most likely the informant was certainly feeling stressed at just having lost her husband due to carcinoma of the stomach. This is a terribly debilitating disease, with a long, rocky road leading to Charles' death. It is amazing that Amazina could hold up under the pressure. In fact, Charles' mother died barely six month earlier, so the family was probably still in mourning. According to the Utah Burial database, Charles' mother Betsy is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery , K_5_7_2E, while Charles is buried close by at K_5_8_1.

Thanks to Docu-Challenge Bonnie Malmut for responding to my request to list other record groups this death certificate points one to consider for additional research. These are her thoughtful suggestions:

  • Cemetery records (City Cemetery)
  • Undertaker/mortuary records (S M Taylor & Co)
  • Nebraska vital records (birth, marriage), Utah vital records (marriage)
  • Census records from 1850-1910 for both Nebraska and Utah
  • Vital records from England for his parents (marriage index would be a good place to start, and then if fruitful, to other birth, marriage and death records from England)
  • Passenger list records for his parents from England (use census to determine immigration date if possible)
  • Naturalization records for his father
  • Mormon church records due to residence in Salt Lake City at the time
  • Newspaper obits
  • Land records
  • etc.

Placing an ancestor's life into historical perspective helps identify what records could have been created, and where they may be archived. For instance:

  • 1852 Family records state Charles was born "under a lone tree on the plains of Nebraska."
  • 1852, at the time of Charles' birth, Nebraska was part of the Indian Territory and experienced an influx of immigrants who generally didn't stay, but moved farther west to Utah and Oregon.
  • 1867 Nebraska became a state.
This means there will most likely be no public vital record of birth from Nebraska, and we'd have to rely on other resources. Since Charles' parents were part of the Mormon migration pattern, it might be good to see what's available through official LDS Church records at the Church History Library.

The FamilySearch Wiki explains that from 1840  to the present, there are annual reports that list members births and deaths and recommend the Tracing LDS Ancestors page.

Two lineage organizations, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers and the Sons of Utah Pioneers, may have additional manuscript material increasing our understanding of Charles' birth.

A Guide to Mormon Family History SourcesTo find out more about the migration of the family unit, one may Google for "Mormon migration" and find Brigham Young University's Mormon Migration searchable database. Other resource are listed in Kip Sperry's A Guide to Mormon Family History Sources.

  • 1873 June 9 Charles marries Amazina in Salt Lake City.
  • 1887 marriage records required to be kept in Utah.

Census records are a good resource for placing a family in a specific spot where other records can be found to flesh out our understanding of the lives of those ancestors.

In places like Utah where statehood took decades to achieve, look for territorial census enumerations. The FamilySearch Wiki lists available federal, state and territorial census, including several where Charles is listed with his parents and later with his wife and children.

Chosen strictly at random from the several high-quality responses, the winner of the Docu-Challenge: Charles Player's death certificate is Bonnie Malmut. If she will contact me privately with her US snail mail address and phone number, I'll be glad to have send her a copy of Val D. Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition. BRAVO!

Another docu-challenge will be announced tomorrow!

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


  1. Thanks to my DearREADER Paul who writes:

    "Thank you for doing the Docu-Challenge: Charles W. Player's Death Certificate. Being able to "see" the reasoning process a genealogist should follow is a big help.

    I hope you keep doing this sort of thing as it makes me want to continue reading your blog."

  2. DearPAUL,
    I do so intend to keep doing these Docu-Challenges. They are fun and enlightening for all concerned.

    Thanks for the positive feedback!
    M :)

  3. With regards to Barbara Mathews comments on the "curious practice" of the street naming in Salt Lake City. When the city was laid out or at least when the street names were assign remember that everything starts at Main Street and South Temple Street, going South and East everything is "normal", i.e. 100 South was commonly called First South, 100 East is State Street, 200 East is Second East. To the North and the West of Temple Square, you would have North Temple Street followed by First North which was numbered 200 North. The same is true to the West, where you had West Temple followed by First West which was numbered 200 West. That is true until, I believe the 1960's when the West and the North streets were renamed, so what had been 2nd West became known as 300 West. I know that may sound confusing, you had to have been there.

  4. I agree that they are fun, and interesting. I've looked at a lot of death certificates and its nice to look at one where you don't know all the facts and can see if you can determine what's accurate and what's not. Thanks for mentioning my comments (I'm JK) too Myrt, I was pleasantly surprised to see them when I read the e-mail from the Blog.