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.