Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Birth Certificates

Birth certificates have gone big time. Everyone wants to see your birth certificate. Like genealogists they see them as accurate proof of birth.

I am looking at a certificate of birth issued by the State of Illinois. Dwight H. Green was Governor. I know, just as trivia, he was the governor before Adlai Stevenson so that gives me a date range and sure enough, it was issued in 1947. 

It was created at the county level. I personally knew every person who is named at that level and am familiar with their signatures. I know therefore that it is a transcript of the actual certificate and the signatures are not real. While I would think that would be obvious just looking at it you just never know who has questions.

The birth, however, took place in the prior century. Nowhere on the document does it say "delayed" or other term that would indicate same.

The father's birthplace, city, is not listed and the state is wrong. The mother's birthplace, city, is not listed. The person giving the information states: "I HEREBY CERTIFY that I had actual knowledge of the facts as stated in this RECORD OF BIRTH at the time the birth occurred, and know them to be be true; and that I am related to this person as mother and that I am at least one year older."

The "I am at least one year older" always amuses me. One year olds have "actual knowledge of the the time the birth occurred..." Really?

So we have the person and her mother and then the Notary Public who attests to all this. The Notary is the signer's youngest son. 

The informant, who is the mother, doesn't know exactly where she was born and she is wrong about even the state of her husband's birth. All of the persons who signed off at the county level are members of the same family. No other person signed off on it at the county level. It went to the state and was duly issued. 

Why do we think birth certificates are reliable sources?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Death Certificates

It's good genealogical practice to collect as much documentation as you can and certainly of critical facts. Birth and death are some of those critical facts. So we dutifully go to the courthouse or write or call and we spend a lot of money on vital records. We get them home, scan them into our computers and then what? Buy a bigger file drawer to store paper? Why are we doing this? The courthouses do not need our business.

Let's look at death certificates. The more first hand experience dealing with death and the resulting death certificates I have the more inaccuracies I notice.

First, a death certificate is not a primary source. It is rarely if ever signed by a person who witnessed the death but rather the doctor of record for the person or the facility. S/he may not have seen the person in some time. Someone with some authority told them the person was dead and they signed off on it.  Hmm. I see a mystery plot here.

The person who provided the background information on the person may have no clue. They don't have to be related or present at the death or even have seen the person lately. If you haven't noticed this before look at some of those in your collection.

Ok, the death date. Has to right, right? Ever talk to a witness to the death of someone who died in hospice at night? It might be the next day before the official arrives to officially declare them dead. Same thing happens in facilities. What about a person who dies unattended and that fact is not known for awhile, maybe days?

The death certificate probably is accurate as to the name of the funeral director. Very rarely, old funeral home records are located and, even more rarely, are made available to the public. Somehow I don't think knowing that is the reason we are collecting the death certificates.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Genealogy Police

There is a lot of jabber in the blogs now about fantasy genealogy. I agree there is a lot of it out there. As I have written before, my line back to Adam can be found online, free even. The fantasy genealogy needs to stop. I agree with that too.

But the alternative seems to be The Genealogy Police.

The Genealogy Police challenge every little factoid. "It says here your mother stubbed her toe in 1943? Do you have three pieces of documentation, in duplicate and properly cited, for that?"

Is the idea to drive everyone but the select few out of genealogy, make it an elite specialty field? It seems like that at times.

If that is not the motive - and I certainly hope it isn't - then the police need to rethink their methods. If they drive people out of genealogy there will be no market for the field and the specialty product niche they are trying to create. Ooops.