Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Finding Life In Death

Death Certificate of Sarah Hansel (?) Myers.
Every so often I log on to Ancestry.com to check and see if any leaves shaking on the tree. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, this means that there is new information or documents available for review. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is correct or adds color to that particular ancestor but there are times when interesting discoveries are made. However, I learned early on that you can’t simply rely on the quivering foliage so, when I have a few minutes here and there, I do a general search of the site to try and find other information (especially when the spelling of the surname is a little different or flat out incorrect).

This week I have noticed that a lot of the Pennsylvania Death Certificates are now listed. I don’t know when they were digitized but I am just noticing them now. While the time frame is a bit of a hindrance (currently only 1906-1940 certificates are listed) there are still plenty of documents that I have been finding. Everything from the tragic deaths of children to the inevitable passing of aged ancestors, the causes run the gamut. These are a great source of information not just about the departure of a relative but they can, most of the time, also be a great way to confirm or correct other generations on your tree… sometimes, like a document I sent to my wife, they can provide the names of the parents which was previously unknown information.

As for my tree, it has been a means of correction and confirmation. The death certificate above lists both parents including the mother’s maiden name which is different from that which I previously had listed on my family tree. And it is not a simple adjustment in the spelling… Davenport is nowhere close to Hansel. This doesn’t mean that I will be correcting it right away but it gives pause to continuing work on that particular branch. Obviously, some more work and verification needs to be done before I change or continue with the tree as is.

These documents are also a means to confirm residence, family health problems (that may have made it across the generations), longevity, and occupation. Sometimes it is a matter of confirming many of those things at the same time. One such document added to the long list of railroad workers in my family while another verified the service of my great great grandfather in the Philadelphia Police Department… I just didn’t realize that he spent 54 years on the force.

In the end, while the primary purpose of these documents was to record the death of the family member, there is more life in them than some people realize… definitely more than what can be found in most census records. All of the information is there and it could lead to some interesting discoveries and answer questions or doubts that you may have had about your family. Just goes to show that we need to read the documents rather than just attaching them to an ancestor.