52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #6: The Same Name

This week’s topic for 52 Ancestor’s in 52 Week’s is the Same Name.  Do you have ancestors with the same name?  You know the ones, they drive you crazy because they are all back to back to back and you aren’t sure which ancestor they are talking about because they are father and son and they overlap.

I have the same name.  Andrew Jackson.  Andrew Jackson is a name that turns up on both my paternal and maternal sides of my dad’s side of the family.  On my Blair side I my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are both Andrew Jackson Blair’s with my great-great-great-grandfather being Andrew (he may be an Andrew Jackson as well but I’ve not had any confirmed documentation stating such).  Then on my grandma’s side I have a great-great-great-grandfather named Andrew Jackson Morgart.

Andrew Jackson Blair (1881-1926)

The first Andrew Jackson Blair I will discuss was my great-grandfather.  No one alive today ever knew him as he died before any of his grandchildren were born.  Andrew was a miner and died when rock began falling within one of the mines and it crushed his chest.  His brother-in-law, Abraham Childers, was injured when the ligaments in his leg were torn.

AJBlair

Above is the only photo known to have been taken of my great-grandfather.  The story is that it was taken as a group shot of his Sunday School class and they managed to snip him out of the group shot so we have it. When I was sent this photo a few months ago I was so happy, I love seeing what my relatives looked like.

I have never found any marriage record yet of when my great-grandparents wed.  But using Newspapers.com I have been able to piece together their marriage date of March 19, 1906.

Bedford_Gazette_Fri__Mar_23__1906_
Bedford Gazette, Friday, March 23, 1906

Andrew, or AJ as I have seen him regarded as often, was buried in South Fork Cemetery.

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Andrew Jackson Blair (1851-1899)

I don’t know a whole lot about my great-great-grandfather.  He was born in March 1851 in Cambria County, Pennsylvania and passed away of a Paralytic Stroke on June 20, 1899 in Bedford County, PA.  On the 1870 Census he was still living at home and was a woodchopper but in the 1880 census he had married the former Susan Jane Foster and had 3 children, all girls, and was a miner.  In the 1880’s he and his wife would have 3-boys and 2-girls to add to the mix, bringing their total children to 9.

Andrew is actually buried in Duvall Cemetery, which is on the land of his wife’s great-grandfather, Basil Foster. I didn’t see his grave when I visited last year, but I also was unaware of his being buried there until my final day in Pennsylvania when I discovered his death record at the Bedford County Courthouse.

Andrew Blair (@1812 – After 1880)

Andrew Blair is my 3rd-great-grandfather and also one of my biggest brick walls (the other is his wife, Susannah (Suzanna) Akers and his son, George Washington Blair).  Though he isn’t an Andrew Jackson, he is the Andrew that at least began it all (or so I think). I can honestly say I’ve not gotten any further than just the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses for my great-great-great-grandparents.  His occupation is just a laborer, and he rented his home so there is no land ownership.  In 1850 he lived in Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, then in 1860 he lived in Huston Township in Blair County, and in 1870 and 1880 he lived in Bedford County, first in Broad Top Township and then in Coaldale.

Along with a vague occupation, I have no definitive birth or death date for this elusive man.  One day I will find out more about my ancestor – it will just take time and plenty of patience.

Andrew Jackson Morgart (1824 – 1870)

On my grandmother’s side of the family is my 3rd-great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Morgart.  This Andrew Jackson was a farmer who lived in West Providence in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. On June 4, 1847 he married his wife, the former Rebecca O’Neal whom he had 10 children with, I’m an offspring of his oldest son, George Washington Morgart.

Andrew Jackson Morgart
Photo of Andrew Jackson Morgart by Teri Graham that was uploaded onto FamilySearch.org

He died August 19, 1870.  According to his obituary he must have been sick for a spell as death was not unexpected, but at the same time he was only 46-years-old.  Wow, that’s the same age I am, but he was actually younger as I’ll be 47 next week.

To Sum It Up

To my knowledge, these are all the Andrew Jackson’s in my family.  Now, Andrew Jackson Morgart did have a grandson named Charles Jackson but that’s another story for another time.

I guess the most fascinating part of having all these Andrew Jackson’s in my family is that in college I took a class entitled Jefferson to Jackson where it focused on the history of the United States while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson where president.  During this time period Andrew Jackson was such a hero, saving our new country from the British in the War of 1812 which led to his presidency.  But I so disliked Andrew Jackson, still dislike him to this day.  It would just figure that I have all these relatives named after him.

Though a part of me would love for my Andrew Blair to be an Andrew Jackson Blair too – as he was born in 1812 (maybe sooner) it could possibly make it a family name and not in honor of the famous war hero.

But I am going to have to break down that brick wall first.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #5: So Far Away

This week’s topic for Week 5 in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “So Far Away”.  My family that I am going to discuss is my maternal grandfather’s family, the Fairhurst’s, who I have traced back to England.  It’s not that England is that far, I am just at a stand still because learning how to do a new type of research (I know it’s the same language, but it’s still a different sort of system) I guess I’m just waiting until I have another branch to delve into records for more than one side of the family at a time.

My great-grandfather came over from Leigh, England in 1913.  He travelled on the ship the RMS Mauretania.  He came straight away to Jefferson County, Ohio to live.  He worked as a miner and became a naturalized citizen on May 14, 1920.  Eventually his family moved to Akron, initially working for the Seiberling Rubber Company (it was the second rubber company that F.A. Seiberling founded, the first being Goodyear Rubber Company – I know all this as I worked at his house, now a historic estate, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens), then the WPA in the early 1940’s, and then once again finding employment as a rubber worker at Firestone Rubber Company.

His wife, the former Phoebe Boone, was pregnant with their second child so she was delayed coming over at the same time James did.  A tale that was told to me by my grandfather, Harold, when I was doing my family history for my 6th grade Social Studies class, was that my great-grandmother was originally suppose to come over on the Titanic, but because she wasn’t feeling well, she opted to go at another time.  Lucky for me if this was really the case as my grandfather wouldn’t be born for another 8 years. I have not yet looked to see if any of this is true, I just assumed it was false but a fun story for my family to tell.

I’ll admit another reason I don’t research this portion of my family is that I wasn’t overly fond of my grandfather, and therefore it’s being reflected on his entire family.  He was an angry man who took things out on everyone around him.  I have learned from conversations with his 2 of his 3 remaining children that he seems to have gotten that characteristic from his mother.  So while other portions of my family tree tend to go back to the early 1800’s, sometimes even the 1700’s, my Fairhurst and Boone branches stop in the late 1800’s.

Ancestors of Harold Fairhurst

I guess I shouldn’t let my feelings get the better of me.  It’s entirely possible that Thomas, Rachel, Enoch and Susannah are perfectly fine people living a splendid life in Leigh, England, and I won’t ever know until I start finding out about them.  I didn’t know anything about the others either until I began researching.  But for the time being they are over in England, with all their records, an ocean away.

 

Genealogy

Using Maps for Family History

Are you like me, constantly looking at maps to see exactly where your family once roamed?  I’m always using the below map on the FamilySearch Wiki to solve brick walls, wondering where my next further back batch of relatives would come from or lived in relation to others.

PennsylvaniaClickableMap-FamilySearch

Just about all the relatives on my paternal side are found within the counties in the South-Western/Central portion of Pennsylvania. These counties would be Somerset, Bedford, Fulton, Cambria, Blair and Huntingdon counties.  But not all of these counties have always existed, at one point I believe most of the region was Bedford County (which is why I chose Bedford to visit in July 2019).

Maps can be very helpful for locating where your ancestor’s records are kept.  Records tend to stay with the county of when they were created.  So if your family’s land is in what is now Blair County – since it was formed from Bedford County and Huntingdon County – if the records you seek are prior to 1846 – you will need to look in either Bedford or Huntingdon Counties.

An article on GenealogyBank.com by Gena Philibert-Ortega states, “Maps help you follow migration patterns, learn more about the place your ancestor lived, determine the location of cities that no longer exist, show changes in county boundaries, and verify land your ancestor owned.”

You may be lucky enough to find a map that even shows where your ancestors lived without your even plotting it.  Below is a map that I photocopied out of the “County Atlas of Bedford Pennsylvania” and it shows the land where both my 2x-Great-Grandfather lived (G. Morgart) and my 3x-Great-Grandfather lived (A. Morgart).  It turns out B. Hughes is a distant relative as well, and he married my 2x-Great-Grandmother when George Morgart passed away. I’m most likely related to the Ritchey’s as my aforementioned 2x-Great-Grandmother was Mary Ann Ritchey, and she had 2 brothers with the first name beginning with D.

IMG_1244

Gazetteers

According to Wikipedia, a gazetteer is “a geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent”.

These books are essential as they normally list the names of places that may not even exist in an area anymore, which can be very important for finding information on your family. Gazetteers can also provide the history of an area, including photographs.

David Rumsey Map Collection

A great website to find historical maps is the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. The collection began about 30 years ago and includes over 150,000 maps spanning between the 16th through 21st centuries from across the world.  The digitizations began in 1996 and include over 95,000 pieces.  The real pieces are housed in the David Rumsey Map Center in Stanford library.

Mapping Software

If you find yourself trying to purchase a ton of books to find the maps you need, you can always turn to mapping software for computers.  These programs work by you typing in your location and then you can scroll through the years watching the boundaries change before your eyes, giving you the exact county within your state (if in the United States) of where your ancestor lived at a specific point in time.  This makes it convenient so you know where to look for the records you seek (remember, records stay with the county).

Examples of these programs are AniMapFamily Atlas,  or you can go the free route and use Google Earth.  One of the nice features of using Google Earth is that it is programmed with some of the David Rumsey maps that you can overlay where your ancestors lived at various points in history, so you can walk where they walked, so to speak (please note you’ll have to download the software for your computer for the Rumsey maps to work, but don’t worry, it’s still free!).

Just Google It

One of the other functions I used for my more recent ancestors is simply putting the address of where my ancestors lived that I have found using City Directories in Google so I can see the homes where my family members once lived.  More often than not the house is still standing (I will often refer to the real estate tax site for my county as well just to confirm when the house was built). By seeing what the house looks like in advance I am able to drive by and find it more easily.

My mother’s side of the family settled where I live around 1916 and a majority of her side of the family is still here.  Because of where they originally made their home each day when I drive to work I pass where my great-great-grandmother and her husband had their store.  And I found it using the City Directory to obtain the address and putting the address into Google.

City Directory
1924 Akron City Directory
331 Howard St
Google Image searched on 28 Jan 2020

In a Nutshell

Maps offer us so much information.  They are visual so it can open up an entirely new world to your research.  You can see how far apart relatives live.  If you’re tackling a brick wall and you see someone far away from any other place they’ve lived it might have you question “Is this person mine?” as the migration patterns can become quite apparent once you begin plotting addresses.

I’ve always referred to maps in my search for my family history, but I am at the point I’m really going to start plotting out where they lived just to get a better idea of where their proximity to others so I can wrap my head around things.

If you have used maps please feel free to share your tips and what you use to visually track your relatives and get a feel for where they lived.

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week #2: My Favorite Photo

My favorite photo from my family history journey?  I have to pick just one?  I have so many that seeing an ancestor seems to have changed my life that picking just one seems so difficult.  Until I realize it isn’t.

The photo I chose is actually (at the present anyhow) a part of my header here on my blog.

BerthaChilders-MargaretWise-AnnaMorgartBlair-LeroyBlair-Skippy#1-1961

I’ve included it just as it was scanned off my dad’s flatbed scanner that he is allowing me to use.  This photo includes 2-great-grandmothers and my paternal grandparents.  It was taken at my grandparent’s house in Akron, Ohio in 1961.  From left to right is Bertha Childers, Margaret “Maggie” Wise, Anna Maria Morgart, and Leroy Blair.  This photo just seems to exemplify the personalities of them all and just looking at it brings a smile to my face.

Bertha Childers

I’ve heard from more than one person that Bertha (aka Mrs. Chappell, the last name of her second husband) was always mad at someone.  So seeing her cross on the end of the sofa makes me wonder which of my other relatives was she upset with? Bertha is the mother of my grandfather, Leroy Blair. I never had the chance to meet Bertha, she passed away in 1963.

Margaret “Maggie” Wise

Next up is Maggie Wise, my Grandma’s mom.  I actually have very fuzzy memories of visiting Gammy (that’s what her grandkids called her) in the nursing home when we went back to Pennsylvania to visit.  I only recall meeting her a few times, and she passed away at the age of 96 in 1987 (I was 14 at the time). She always seemed happy and I remember her playing the “mouth organ” or harmonica.

My Paternal Grandparents

I love seeing my grandparents (Anna Maria Morgart and Leroy Blair) so happy in this picture.  Now it’s hard to make out, even with the original photo in your hand, but from the note on the back of it, they are playing with a bird (not just any bird mind you, Skippy #1.  My Grandma Blair went on to name every bird she had Skippy over the years, so it’s rather cool to see the original). Not having ever met my grandfather, I never knew that much about him, and stories seemed to fall all over the place.  Seeing him having a good time with my Grandma makes me happy.

Anna Maria Morgart

My Grandma Blair was probably the best friend I will ever have.  I could talk to her about anything and she never judged, just listened, and gave me the best advice she thought I needed.  Gosh, I miss her.  She passed away almost 13 years ago but sometimes the pain seems like it was yesterday.

Leroy Blair

My grandfather, affectionately called Pappy, died when I was 2-years-old so I really don’t have any recollections of him.  My mom’s favorite story of him was how every time he came over to our house, I’d be asleep and he would say “I just want to go in a look at her” and somehow I always woke up.  I have heard from other relatives how he just loved little girls and he would have probably spoiled me rotten (not that he wasn’t fond of my dad). I wish I could have had him in my life.  He seems like he was just a good man, and in the end, isn’t that what you want from your relatives?

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

If you are interested in doing your own writing journey, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is where you can sign up and see the listing of all the prompts for this year’s challenge.

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week 1: A Fresh Start

I’m a little late in starting but I’ve decided I’m going to partake in Amy Johnson Crow’s family history writing exercise “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks”.  Seeing as writing about my ancestors always seems so daunting, I hope that doing it weekly on a different member of my family that maybe, just maybe, I’ll feel more comfortable.

Week 1’s topic is “A Fresh Start”.  I’m going to be super generic and talk about myself – I’m going through a fresh start in my genealogical journey as I am going through all my people and making sure they belong and that I have the documents I need for them, and that I have the full information for each ancestor.

For example on New Year’s Eve, I discovered in my Legacy software all the people who I have just a year down for their birth date or death date – all their reminders came up on December 31.  And it wasn’t just a few I had, it was for 134 dates!

In some ways I stand by the dates, something is better than nothing, so when I see a child who shows up on a Census or two and all I have is that random year of birth that’s given, I use it with a hope of someday finding additional information such as a month or an actual day to go with it.

I also ran a potential problem report and was fortunate it was only a page in length.  I’ve fixed most of these mistakes as one person had a death date before their birth date (I typed 1930 for their birth instead of 1830 – an easily fixed typographical error, but an error nonetheless).

Going more in-depth and trying to find out what I don’t know is going to make me a better family historian.  We all deserve a fresh start every now and then – and mine has begun, even with this challenge, as it will allow me to get to know my ancestors even better.

If you are interested in doing your own writing journey, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is where you can sign up and see the listing of all the prompts for this year’s challenge.

Good luck!

Genealogy

Mind Mapping

I’m presently taking a class on genealogy and one of the things they briefly went over in last week’s portion is mind mapping.  I’ll be honest, I never really knew what mind mapping was, now I could sum it up to it being brainstorming on a piece of paper.  But I decided to take a little more in-depth examination of mind mapping and how it can help you with your family history research.

What is Mind Mapping

Using the Wikipedia definition, a “mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information”. It’s hierarchal and shows relationships among the pieces of the whole. According to MindMapping.com, it’s a “highly effective way of getting information in and out of your brain” as it’s both creative and logical at the same time.  Mind maps are illustrations of what you are thinking.

Which goes back to my original statement of it being like brainstorming on a piece of paper.

Characteristics of Mind Mapping

There are certain characteristics that each mind map must possess.

Main Idea

Each mind map has a main idea.  It’s the theme of what your mind map is about.

Branches

These are the main ideas that branch off of your main idea that create connections.

Keywords

These words or ideas that support or describe your main idea are summarized into keywords, no sentences allowed.

Twigs

Lastly, you have less important ideas that aid in describing the keywords, and these branch off onto smaller lines, or twigs.

Creating Mind Maps

There are different ways to create mind maps.  You can draw from hand (I apologize for my bad photo – somehow my paper got folded but something told me trying to re-write it wouldn’t work as I’d probably just mess it up and get totally frustrated).

20191112_193005

Mind maps can also be made with computer software.  Some of the software that you can use are the following: Coggle, Mindly, Draw.io, iMindMap, MindMup, MindMeister, Scapple, and SmartDraw to name just a few.

MindMapping_mindmap_handdrawn-796x531
Photo found at MindMeister.com

Using Your Mind Map

Mind mapping is a tool that helps make you a better thinker. When you come across a problem, even something that really has you stumped like a brick wall, write it down, all of it, you may just get pointed in the right direction on where to look next.

The one I did above is one of my brick walls, which actually leads to a bigger brick wall.  George Washington Blair is the 4th child of my great-great-great-grandparents.  I only have 1 death certificate listing my 3x-great-grandmothers name and I strongly feel that if I can find George Washington Blair’s death certificate, that maybe it will give me some insight on my 3x-great-grandparents.

A mind map isn’t going to solve your problems, but it will allow you to see your information in a logical flow and give you the opportunity to see what you still need to find, and then you can best decide where to go to seek your answers.

Good luck!

Genealogy

Writing Your Family History

I constantly read how I should be writing my family history down but the question is HOW?  I obviously want it to be entertaining and not cause people to be snoring within minutes, but do you just plop down the statistics?  Do you try to give it personality?  These are the things this inquiring mind wants to know.

Blank 3.5 x 2 in

How You Will Share Your Writing

What form of media will you use to share your family history?  This is a very important decision.  Will you write a book? A newsletter?  A blog?

The format of your writing determines how formal your writing needs to be.  If you choose a blog (I obviously write about my own family discoveries along with tips of how to do your family history) you need to be a little more entertaining to keep your reader’s attention (hopefully I succeed in this).  This would probably be similar advice if you thought of doing a newsletter.

If you are going to write a book you obviously want people to enjoy what they are reading but you can also make sure you throw in statistics you have gathered about your relatives/ancestors if that is the only information you have.

Photographs

If you have photographs of the people you are writing about, make sure you include them. This is probably a no-brainer but it’s worth stating.  I know whenever I come across a photo of a relative I get so excited to see how they looked at whatever stage in their life.  I am hoping to one day find a photograph of my great-grandfather, Charles Morgart, as he is the infant/toddler in my blog’s header.  I have yet to see an adult photo of him but so wish I had one.

Photographs also make people real.  Face it, you can tell people that this is when they were born and this is when they died – but it’s when you give the details of how they lived and what they looked like that makes a person become alive.

Add Some History

You may be thinking,  “of course I am going to write history, I’m writing my family’s history”, but sometimes it’s nice to give your writing a little bit of historical context.  Relate to your reader what is going on in the world to give a better sense of the time period when your ancestor lived.

For example, I am presently reading “National Geographic’s Atlas of the Civil War” as my great-great-great-grandfather, George Henry Fesler, fought in the Civil War.  I have obtained his military file and it details all the battles that he fought in and where he was stationed.  George fought in many battles but I will confess they tend to be a lot of the smaller battles, not Antietam, Vicksburg or Gettysburg, the battles that the average person has heard of, so I’m reading this in-depth book about all the battles so I can include better details in reference to him.

There are different ways you can highlight historical events, you can just do a sidebar of big events that happened during the time period or you could have a timeline listing similar details.

Setting Your Book Up

When writing a book you can always highlight a different ancestor in a chapter.  For example, you can have a chapter on your mother, then a chapter on her mom and a chapter on her dad and within the chapters referring to her parents you can detail her siblings.

You may not have any intimate details about some of your relative’s lives but when you come across those initially you can just put the vital statistic information that you have on these individuals.  Sometimes you may just have very limited information, but if you have gathered any city directories about your ancestor, often they list where they worked, which helps give a little more insight into them.  Censuses will often list a general occupation as well which is still helpful in painting a picture of your relative’s life.

Make a Video

I know on my mom’s side of the family, my aunt and uncle were occasionally asking me how I was progressing on my research.  Not having anything written down, but having found photos of various members of my mom’s side of my family, I made a minute-long video that briefly highlighted my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother and lastly my great-great-great-grandmother and my great-great-great-grandparents (the photo of my 4th great grandmother happened to be a photo with her husband). I used the online video maker Adobe Spark which is free to use and even can be made with background music (the default was surprisingly fitting for my video). I shared the video with my aunt, uncle and many cousins and they loved it!  It was long enough to be interesting and short enough to keep their attention.

Your Program May Write the Book for You

I use Legacy Family Tree to store all my family’s information and there is a way to print a book using all the information I have entered into the program.  It fills in written accounts listed in the notes on each individual as well listing all the sources that you have attached for all the records included. This is a nice, no-brainer way of writing a book with the click of a button.

Brings Your Research Together

Writing about your family is a great way to make your research more interesting to the average person.  Family Historians often find such neat information about our ancestors through vital statistics, newspapers, and family lore, compiling them all together for future generations just makes sense.

No matter what form of media you choose to use – book, newsletter, or blog, anyway that interests you in writing down your information is how you should publish your work.

You don’t have to stop all of your research to begin writing a book, but it may be something to focus on one day a week in order to get ideas together on what you may want to do. I know I have been thinking about how I want to do mine for a while and I like about taking it an ancestor at a time.  It may provide you with who you want to focus on for a bit as well, and if you have all your writing on a computer you can always continue to add the further along you go with your tree.

No matter how you opt to write your genealogical findings, I wish you great success in your journey.  Sharing your research with the world is one of the greatest honors we as family historians have.

Good luck!

 

 

 

Genealogy

Family History Month

Family History Month

October is Family History Month and this past weekend I had two days of events to help me in my genealogical journey.

Friday night my library hosted a Late Night at the Library where you could research at the Special Collections area from 6:30-10:30pm.  They gave a tour of the department for those who hadn’t been there before.  I am very fortunate to have a library that has books from most of the 50 states (if not all), microfilm from various newspapers, maps, and free access to a number of subscription genealogical sites.  Representatives from different organizations were also on hand to assist, one being National Society United States Daughters of 1812.

Saturday had me spending most of the day at my local Family History Center where they had a day filled with classes to learn more about researching genealogy.  Here are the classes that I took:

  1. Interpreting DNA Results
  2. Scottish Research
  3. Latest Computer Tech for Genealogists
  4. Family Search App
  5. Internet Sites for Genealogists

Other classes that were offered included Prussian Research, Czech/Slovak Research, Until Death Do Us Part, Are You a Good Ancestor?, and FamilySearch questions.

Family History Centers are locations that allow you to access all records on FamilySearch and like the library, they also provide free access to many subscription sites to help you in your research.  They are located all across the United States.

You should take a moment and check to see if your local library or Family History Center has any genealogy programs going on before October is over.  Both of my local events were free., there is a chance could be too!

 

 

Genealogy

Death Certificates

Death certificates are one of my favorite tools to find when working on my family tree.  Granted it’s always sad that your ancestor passed away, but death certificates offer so much information that when you find them it’s like hitting the family history jackpot.

Different States, Different Availability

The downside of death certificates when searching in the United States is that each state differs when they began keeping vital statistic records, and their availability for each is different as well.  I am fortunate that I live in the state of Ohio and we can go and get a birth certificate from anywhere, at any time.  There are limitations, like you have to be in the county where the person died (my grandfathers are both eluding me as one died in Jefferson County and the other in Monroe), or if the person passed away between 1908-1953 you can find them on FamilySearch but if they died between 1954-1963 you have to contact the Ohio History Center in Columbus to obtain those.  The cost is $7 plus tax but I can honestly say when I mailed in my check for the two I needed, I sent away on a Thursday and my death certificates were emailed to me the following Monday (my check hadn’t even cleared yet).

Most of my relatives are from Pennsylvania which has a much stricter policy for the release of their vital statistics.  Birth certificates are available 106 years after birth.  Death certificates are available 50 years after they die. Next year I will finally be able to get my grandmother’s birth certificate as she was born in 1914.  I will be ordering my grandfather’s at the same time as he was born in 1912.

Make sure you check with the state you are researching to find out when you are able to obtain these valuable vital statistics records and find out how much it will cost to obtain these records.  In Pennsylvania, it is presently $5 each.

Birth Certificates vs. Death Certificates

Though birth certificates are very important (when recently coming across my great-aunt’s birth certificate on Ancestry, I discovered that her father was not my great-grandfather). Death certificates give you birth dates, death dates, spouse, parent’s names, where they are buried, if they are buried, when they were buried, how they died, where they lived, where they were born.  Granted, the information is only as reliable as the informant, but it gives you something to go with as far as your person is concerned, especially if you know little about the person.

My Most Memorable Death Certificate

My most surprising death certificate I found using Ancestry Library Edition.  I am fortunate for my local library to have this, and so I would often go to my local branch and spend an hour or more at least once a week utilizing the records they had.  This is when I came across my second cousin twice removed’s death certificate.

RalphReedDeathCertificate

Discovering that one of your relatives was executed by the state of Ohio is always a little alarming.  I am sure if I ever find another (I truly hope I don’t) that I will be just as amazed.  (And I know I’ve shown this before, but some surprises you just never get over).

However, look at all the information that you can discover on the above death certificate.

  • Name: Ralph Reed
  • Birth Date: 1 Jun 1921
  • Place of Birth: Johnstown, Cambria, Pennsylvania
  • Father: Thomas Reed
  • Mother: Margaret Phillips
  • Occupation: Baker
  • Date of Death: 4 May 1949
  • Place of Death: Columbus, Franklin, Ohio
  • Cause of Death: Electrocution by Legal Execution
  • Informant: Mrs. Margaret Reed (his mother)
  • Burial: Headrick Cemetery
  • Date of Burial: 7 May 1949

All this information is from one piece of paper. Now in Ralph’s case, we are fortunate that the informant was his mother so it was a person who had a great deal of knowledge of his life.  Many times we aren’t as lucky.  So often I find “I don’t know” or “Unknown” for a parent’s name because the children of a person aren’t always aware of their grandparent’s names, especially if they passed away before they were born.

It is highly recommended that you gather all the vital statistics that you can for each member of your family.  These include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates.

New England States

Most states began keeping death records between 1900-1930.  If you are lucky enough to have relatives in the New England states where religion was the backbone of the community, you will be fortunate to have ledgers with birth and death dates.  When I was finally able to leave Potter County, Pennsylvania and go to Franklin/Hampshire County, Massachusetts, I was amazed at how many vital statistic records I was able to obtain for my family where they were absent in PA.

The Frontier

As settlers moved west towards the new frontier, keeping records wasn’t at the top priority.  As far as religion went, most of these areas had itinerant ministers.  These circuit riders went from community to community, performing weddings, baptisms, and possibly funerals, but the documents weren’t always filed.  This is why records throughout the mid-west are more challenging to find.

In Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where a majority of my father’s family came from, records are available in a handwritten book from 1890 to 1905.  But anything before that is a mystery, often relying on gravestones for the answers for vital records, along with census records for birth dates.

Sources for Family History

Though there are many important documents to find in genealogy, I find that death certificates are one of the more important ones.  Death certificates don’t always have the answers you are seeking for your people, but they are still valuable documents to have in your possession to obtain needed information about your ancestors.  I know I presently have a death certificate for my second great-great-uncle and it is the only hint I have of what my third great-grandmother’s name is (I’m still hoping to hunt down her fourth living child in a hope of his death certificate giving me the same name).  Both Ancestry and FamilySearch provide online images of death certificates so utilize these valuable sources, you never know what kind of interesting facts you will discover about your ancestors.