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