The death certificate is an often under-utilized vital record with regard to genealogical research. Some may use it only for the state certified date of death and move quickly on, missing "vital information."
As a matter of fact, a death certificate holds a wealth of other information which, of course, must be carefully analyzed before using as fact. This new other information can be used as starting points for new research or to confirm old theories.
Let me give you a first-hand example:
Using my great-great grandfather’s 1924 certificate of death, the first exciting thing I see is his middle name—Wilson. The informant is Mrs. Mary Swope, his wife. I feel comfortable accepting “Wilson” as his middle name in spite of his grave marker having his middle initial a “J.” Mary would have likely known this fact while I don’t know who filled out the information for the grave marker. Additionally, the 1900 and 1910 U.S. federal censuses have “W” as his middle initial.
Except for his occupation, I am not so comfortable with the other information Mary gave. Of course she would have known he was a farmer, but his date of birth and place of birth are information items I will have to confirm through further research since Mary was not there for the event. However, having an actual date to begin with (29 April 1849) and an actual place (Lindside, West Virginia) to begin, is very exciting!
The next exciting thing I see is a name in the “Name of Father” field.
An actual name!
WHAT? WHAT?? WHAT???
Keep in mind that no one in the entire family knows anything about Andrew Swope. The assumption is that he was a freed slave who went to work on Mary’s father’s farm and that they wound up getting married.
At least that’s what “they” remembered their great grandmother Mary saying….
Anyhow, “Hucon” is another new research project. YAY!!
And the WOWs keep coming.
A couple of years ago, I dug around in the West Virginia Vital Records Project and found all the death records for “Swope” that I thought might have something to do with Andrew Swope. I printed quite a few death certificates, stuck them in the “Swope” file and promptly forgot all about them.
A few days ago, realizing that I hadn’t written an article in over a month, I had a brainstorm and decided to write about how a death record confirmed a suspected cause of death.
HOWEVER, while flipping and scanning through the “stack ‘o Swopes” my train of thought was derailed. I saw the name “Hucon Swope,” and kept flippin’ an’ scannin’, flippin’ an’ scannin’. Then I saw “Hucon Swope” again. I was looking at Andrew Swope’s death certificate.
I realized I had never looked at the parent’s section.
I’ve had a potential answer for over two years without realizing it! In all honesty, however, two years ago, I was not nearly as serious as I am now AND had no formal training.
I flipped back to find the certificate I first saw with Hucon’s name on it, thinking I must have inadvertently printed Andrew’s twice.
Lo and behold, I hadn’t.
Hucon is the father of another Swope: Emily!
Could she be Andrew’s sister? She died only 26 days after Andrew in a different county. BUT, they were both born in the same county. Her mother’s name is listed, Betty Moss. The informant is a Lula Wood who lived in the same town as Emily. Could she be another sister to Andrew? WOW.
Emily was an 81 year-old spinster at the time of her demise. Therefore, it stands to reason that a sister (or perhaps a niece?) would give the information for Emily’s death certificate.
All this “new” other information makes GREAT starting points for new research!