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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 17, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Which Date?

Q: My great-great grandmother's death certificate has 3 dates on it, as I have found most generally do, but hers has conflicting dates. Her date of birth is listed as September 9, 1879. That is listed on her childrens' birth and death certificates. The date of her death is listed as November 19, 1926 and date of burial is listed as November 20, 1906. Her childrens' death certificates do not have a death date for her. It's listed as unknown. I have a death date in the family bible for her husband Fate Carroll but not for her. She died in Oklahoma and she's buried in Wagner Cemetery in Oklahoma. Her head stone doesn't have a death date and the cemetery records have the same dates as her death certificate. Please point me in the right direction in trying to sort out these conflicting dates. -- Kimberly

A: It looks like the question at hand is did she die in 1926 or 1906? We can say with assurance that she was not buried twenty years before she died, but what to do to determine which is the correct year.

The first thing you need to do is to look at her death certificate and determine what it is. There are times when we write and request a copy of a certificate and instead we get a transcription. The county clerk types up a form, supplying us with the details from the death certificate. Because these are not the originals there is room for error. If this is what you have received, then you will need to try and view the actual death certificate. You might need to visit in person or hire a professional, being sure to explain the problem thoroughly to them so that they pay close attention to the dates.

If what you have is an actual photocopy of the death certificate as it was filed at the time of her death, then you need to pay close attention to the date of filing. If the record was filed in 1906 then you can assume that the death year is the one in error. If it was filed in 1926, then you can assume that the burial year is the one in error.

If the date of filing has not been included, then you will need to attack this problem from another angle. First you might try searching the 1910 and 1920 census. If she appears in them, then you has disproved the 1906 year. Unfortunately, not finding her in them doesn't automatically guarantee the reverse. It could just be that she was missed, living in another state or was enumerated under an erroneous name.

Finally, you didn't mention an obituary. You will want to determine the newspaper that was in existence during those two years in her place of death. Then you will want to search them for a possible obituary or funeral notice.

Pennsylvania's Mortality Schedules

Q: My great grandmother, Susan Hone, died in early 1880 in Fayette Co. Pa. Her son Herman died later, but before June of 1880. Please, I have been trying to find a Pennsylvania Mortality Schedule for many years. -- Boyd

A: Mortality schedules were taken in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 and a limited census in 1885. They were the result of an Act of Congress. Those involved in the recording of information for the census determined that it was valuable for gathering vital information on births, marriages and perhaps deaths. Of course while marriage and birth information was recorded from 1850 on, the general census form had nothing for death information, at least not until they conceived of the mortality schedule.

Unlike the population schedules though, the mortality schedule enumerations were not retained by the federal government. Prior to the creation of the National Archives, the repository responsible for preserving such records today, the federal government gave each state the option of whether or not to secure those for their state. Originally scheduled for destruction, it was through the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1918-1919, that instead of being destroyed the non-population schedules were sent to state libraries and historical societies. The schedules of those states that didn't want them were given to the DAR Library in Washington, DC.

This explains why it is sometimes difficult to locate the non-population schedules, which include the mortality schedules. A good place to begin a search for the locality of such records is Val D. Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. In his section on census records he includes a chart that lists each state and the existence and whereabouts of its mortality schedules.

The originals are housed in the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. However you can also find them at the National Archives and through the LDS Family History Library. The 1880 Pennsylvania Mortality schedule can be found on seven microfilm reels. A search of the Family History Library Catalog will let you know which film to order for Fayette County.

Remember that the mortality schedule was intended to record information on those persons who died during the previous twelve months. In the case of the 1880 census, the year began June 1, 1879 and ended May 31, 1880. If your great grandmother and her son died prior to May 31, 1880, then they should show up in the 1880 Pennsylvania mortality schedule.

Finding Kentucky Death Records

Q: How do I find death records for Frenchburg, Kentucky from around 1930 to 1960? -- Mrssarges

A: With today's wonderful technology, the first place one should begin such a search is on the Internet. More and more, states are making available searchable databases of their vital records. I am sure they have figured out that it is much easier for them to fill a request when the researcher has been able to supply them with the pertinent information. Online indexes that list this information are the way to reach the majority of the people.

Kentucky is one of those states that has made indexes of their vital records available online. You can visit the Kentucky Vital Records Index and do a search for those individuals you are interested in. They have the following searchable indexes:

  • Death Index - 1911 to 1986
  • Death Index - 1987 to 1992
  • Marriage Index - 1973 to 1993
  • Divorce Index - 1973 to 1993

Once you have done a search and found the individuals you are interested in, you will want to write and request a copy of the death certificates.

You may want to read up on the vital records of Kentucky by visiting the Kentucky section of VitalRec.com. Here you will find information for the cost of the certificates, the address of where to write and even a form you can download and print for requesting the death certificates.

Getting Vital Records

Q: How do you get a copy of a birth certificate for someone who was born between 1800 and 1907? -- Lula

A: Goodness, that is a large time span. I am going to assume that you are wanting to know about more than a single individual. The time span you have listed actually has many answers.

In the United States as each state came into being it was responsible for determining when it and if it would require the recording of such things as vital statistics. As genealogists, we tend to forget that the records we rely on were not created with us in mind. In fact most of the records we use were created with some other purpose in mind and this is true of vital records. It was usually due to a need to know about the births and causes of death that some states began to require the recording of this information.

The majority of states did not begin to record this information until the 1900s. In some cases you will discover that searching on a county level yields a better selection of records, usually begun at an earlier date. For record availability, you will want to search the Family History Library Catalog or visit VitalRec.com.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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