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Archive for the ‘Vital Records’ Category

For the first time in my research, I have found two death certificates for the same person, filled out by two different people. As if the missing and inaccurate records aren’t enough to make me crazy, now this.

I was doing some research review and perusing the Tennessee Death Database when I found this death certificate for Miss Mary Ella Copeland:

Death Certificate 1

Mary’s parents migrated from Alabama to Tennessee, and I have never been able to find any document that states where in Alabama they came from. What struck me is that this death certificate listed “Tuscumbia, Alabama” as the birthplace for her parents. I thought, Now I know I have this death certificate already. Why didn’t I ever notice the town? Sure enough, when I pulled out the copy I had in my records, it only listed “North Alabama” for Mary’s parents:

Death Certificate 2

Both death certificates are indeed the same woman, my great grandmother’s sister Mary Ella Fendricks, who married Abe Copeland. Both list the same death date, February 9, 1930. However, one was completed by her husband, and one was completed by someone named James Casey, who I find associated with the family, but I’m unsure of his exact relation. One certificate lists the “Gant graveyard” as the burial place, while the other lists the “Savannah Colored Cemetery.”

They both illustrate the weaknesses inherent in so many records: the information is only as good as who gave it. They list different ages for Mary Ella. Her husband says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Sharard. James Casey says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Suggs.    

Mary Ella’s mother’s name (according to marriage license and census records) was “Jane Eliza”. But so many records consistently state “Kate”, that I’m starting to believe that she was actually called Kate or Katie. Even my grandmother remembered that name. She died at a relatively young age and no record suggests another marriage for Mike Fendricks.

I wonder what circumstance would cause someone to have multiple death certificates? Have any of you seen this? Sometimes I think the ancestors just like to MESS with us!

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Have you been sure to check for social security applications for all the women in your family? I have been surprised at the number of women I have been able to find who had SSNs. And look at the wonderful little tidbits of information provided. In the one below for “Cora Holt” , the “OK” in parenthesis meant that her mother lived in Oklahoma.

And the one below is just like my great-grandmother Beatrice: ever the detailed one. Look at all the extra data on this document.

One more for Grace Howard:

Have you found many SS5 cards for women in your trees?

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I’ve got a few new discoveries to report. First, Familysearch.org has finally blessed us Tennessee researchers with a Tennessee death index (“Tennessee Deaths and Burials, 1874-1955“). I thought I’d lose my mind when I ran across it, and of course I stayed up until 2 in the morning with much success. I had watched for years as states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas got lots of love from Ancestry and Familysearch, and I was wondering when someone was going to post a database of deaths from my poor lil’ ol’ state! I found about 20 relevant people (direct and collateral) and have already sent off for the certificates.

Familysearch has a much more robust search engine, and even though it is rife with transcription errors, it will pull up data in those valuable ‘mother” and “father” fields. Because of that, I made an interesting discovery.

I finally found my great-great-grandmother’s death certificate–Ada Seaman. She died in 1918, and I know now that it’s her because her father was Baltimore Merriman, and the father’s field says “Baught Merriman.” I had seen this name indexed before, but never thought it was her. Why? Because she showed up on the 1920 census:

wife Ada Seaman

Wow. Gotta remember those darn censuses contain secondary information.

In other news, I got a wonderful act of genealogical kindness. One of my Holt ancestors, Mattie Holt, had been a mystery for many years. I found her on the TN census as a child and never was able to find her again. A few years, ago, I visited descendants of this family I had found  in Inkster, Michigan. One cousin remembered going to visit his Aunt Mattie in Texas. I wouldn’ t have thought to look there, but that’s where she was. I found her on the census, and I found her death certificate–she was running a funeral home, and the oral history was that she’d made a fortune in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

Her married name was May, and I found her husband George May’s death certificate and headstone, but after that, the trail went cold.

I had contacted the local genealogical society in search of an obituary to no avail. But this week I got an email from that researcher who just decided out of the blue to look for Mattie’s probate records since she was in the courthouse. Don’t you just love that?

Jackpot! She found Mattie’s very detailed will and emailed me all the goodies. Mattie in fact did have a daughter (I never knew that) and the will named her nephew as well. It also outlined her 3 marriages and gives dates and places–her first marriage was in Oklahoma.  Talk about doing the happy dance! Now I’ve got much more to follow up on. Sharon, thank you again for all your help with this.

Genealogists can be some of the best people!

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SamCHolt Marriage Records are a key component of everyone’s genealogical research. However, when it comes to those marriage records, are you sure of what you’re actually looking at? Are you viewing:

a marriage register/index?
a marriage certificate?
a marriage bann?
a marriage bond?
a marriage license?
a marriage license application?
a marriage announcement?
a marriage record book?
a marriage intent?
a minister’s return?

Depending on your locality’s laws and customs, the types of documents necessary to legalize a marriage will likely be one or more of the above types, but there are subtle differences between them all and it will help you in all of your research to scrutinize and understand the differences between them. Most professional genealogy books, such as Evidence Explained, will discuss them, in addition to all the good genealogy articles and training available online.

Many localities had pre-printed forms such as the one shown above from Hardin County, Tennessee. This page is from the “Marriage Records” book–sort of a catchall term whose contents can vary greatly from location to location. A prudent researcher who examines the above page closely will notice that it has several different sections:

  • the posting of a bond that requires a surety
  • a section requiring consent if underage
  • the actual license to marry, and
  • a space for the minister to “return” the actual date of marriage.

This represents a common scenario. Most ministers were required to have a license from the couplegiving him permission to perform the marriage. Sometimes, the county court clerk tracked marriage license applicants in a register–or it may be called an index. I’ve seen places where the register survives, but the actual licenses do not that may contain more information, such as parents names.  The minister was supposed to “return” the information regarding the actual marriage date and place; you’ll find some places had entire books of nothing but those “minister’s returns“. Maybe the court clerk’s marriage books don’t survive, but dusty boxes full of the actual licenses do. Maybe none of the official documents survive and you’re left with those marriage announcements in the newspapers–in Hardin County, they were published almost every week. Perhaps you were lucky enough that your ancestor saved their marriage certificate gently pressed in the middle of the family bible, containing all the details of their nuptials.

So go back and take a look at all your marriage documents, and ask yourself: what exactly are you looking at?

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I posted marriages from the Freedmen’s Bureau records of Wayne County, TN on Giving Back to Kin.

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I’ve been absent the last week because we had a huge Prather Reunion on Saturday that was 6 months in the planning. It was a booming success–but I was absolutely exhausted afterwards. I wrote the family history & we are now at almost 200 descendants. Phenomenal. It was great to meet everybody.

In preparation for this reunion, I’ve spent the last 8 months or so really diving deep into this branch. Beatrice Prather was my great-grandmother and her parents, Levi and Martha Prather, were the progenitors of this branch. They lived in Montgomery County, Maryland and I’ve enjoyed researching every aspect of African-American life there in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve spent lots of time at the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Montgomery County Historical Society & the Maryland State Archives.

I’ve posted here about Bible records previously, and in the middle of creating the book for the reunion some new Bible records appeared that I hadn’t seen before and really will help augment and support my research on this branch in serious ways. I wanted to share how information in these records served to support a thesis of mine. Every bit of evidence helps.

Levi and Martha Prather appear first on the 1870 census in Montgomery County.

1870 Census

1870 Census

Here is Levi Prather (the picture is very faint):

Levi Prather

Levi Prather

Here is his wife Martha (Simpson) Prather:

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

I had posited that the 70 year old Resin Prather found in the household was likely Levi’s father. His presence in their home in 1870 was one bit of evidence, but Levi also named a son Resin. My grandmother also wrote in her Bible that Resin was the father of Levi, but she was deceased when I saw this so I couldn’t ask her where this information came from.

Here is one of the three new Bible pages:

Bible Record

Bible Record

The first line says:
“Resin Prather departed this life on Jan 8, 1872″.

I was so excited about this. His presence in this Bible record strengthens my thesis that he was a relative (and likely his father). I don’t think its a stretch to assume that most Bible records would contain mainly records of relatives.

There were two other Bible pages in addition to this one, and there were several new names listed of people that I did not previously know were relatives, especially on Martha’s Simpson side. That’s a huge lead for me as the Simpsons had been somewhat of a brick wall.

Another listing helped me with identifying the last slaveowner. Right after Resin Prather, there is a line that says:

“Tobias Prather (departed this life) on July 28, 1873.

Here is a partial clip from an 1855 slave tax assessment in Montgomery County for Dorothy Williams:

Slaves Taxed

Slaves Taxed

This lists several of her slaves, including Levi, age 18, and Tobias, age 36. I knew Tobias used the surname Prather after slavery and there is another slave Dorothy owned, Wesley, age 30, who also used the name Prather. She also owns two slaves named Darius–my Levi named a son Darius and that name has survived down through the current generation today. I had previously discovered that Levi’s suspected father, Resin Prather, had a different owner living nearby, Nathan Cooke.

However, the somewhat uncommon names grouped together–Tobias, Levi, Vachel, Darius, Wesley–is what helped me be more confident that she is right owner. Tobias’ listing in the family Bible again strengthens the case that these are the same group of formerly enslaved individuals.

Next I discovered Dorothy Williams was the former Dorothy Belt (the family that is the namesake for Beltsville, MD) and that she married Walter Williams. I’m now tracking both of these families for any more insight into their slaves.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, good things drop down into your lap. I think the ancestors gave me this one, on the occasion of their descendants coming together 145 years later to remember them. Thank you, Levi and Martha!

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Meticulous is one of those qualities that really serves you well in genealogy. Case in point: If you are looking for Alabama Vital Records, and you go to that website, you’ d see that the State began keeping death records in 1908.  But what if you said…hmm…..did any counties keep records earlier than that? If you dug around (in Lawrence County for me) you’d be rewarded for that. I found a Death Register that started in 1882.  Looking at it was even more eye-opening:

Look at all the information on this thing! First of all, yes, it includes blacks. It notes the person’s name, date of death, age, race and occupation on the first page. It’s funny how sometimes they would mark the person white, then cross that out only to replace it with mulatto;) You can see an example of that above.

The second page notes the cause of death, place of death and burial, and the person who reported the death. This register goes through 1895. Some of the notations even say who the person’s parents were! Now think if you had just stopped and thought that the state level vitals were all that were available. This was such a hidden gem for me. I’m searching in Lawrence County, Alabama for my Fendricks family roots.  They are a BIG brick wall for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone with that surname listed here. But I thought this was a pretty cool record.

Now, at the end of the book, they had a list of the doctors that worked in Lawrence County in that timeframe. Nice. But guess what was next?

How terrific is that? A list of midwives! Notice the colored ones. What if that was your ancestor?

The places in which we find unlikely information still amaze me. I’m still convinced the ancestors want to be found.

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