Thomas Francis Farrell died in 1920. I obtained a copy of his death record from the Massachusetts State Archives. The record reveals his father’s name was Michael Farrell, his mother Mary Havey. When I compared Thomas’ death record with his marriage record, however, I found he reported his mother was Nancy, not Mary.
Who can I believe: The informant at Thomas’s death or his own reported information given at the time of his marriage? You already know the answer to that!
I just want to make sure you question the information you find in a death record.
What information can you usually trust on a death record? Just the fact that the person died! The cause of death and date and place of death are usually pretty credible, but sometimes they may even be in error. Most all other information found in a death record should be suspect.
After all, who is the informant?
- It could be someone close to the subject who was very upset about losing a loved one and may confuse the information they give.
- It could be a neighbor who didn’t know much about the person
- It could be ANYBODY!
That said, once you have a death record, you should follow the clues to the original sources that reveal the true information.
Here’s some things you can do to verify the information in the record. If the record names:
- the subject’s place of birth and a father’s name,
- search for a census record for the father when the subject would have been a child in his father’s house, and
- search for a birth record for the subject.
- the place of burial, look for a cemetery, tombstone, or church record.
- the cause of death and it was unusual, look for a newspaper article about it.
- the residence at the time of death, look for census records and city directories.
- the hospital, see if the hospital still exists and if their records go back that far.
- the mortuary, look for mortuary records.
You may ask, do I really need a mortuary record since I already have the death record? YES! When you are able to gather ALL the available records, you gain more clues and insight into your ancestor. You never know, that mortuary record just may reveal some information you wouldn’t have found any other place.
So, knock on death’s door. Get out your magnifying glass and REALLY dig into that death record.
Related Posts: More Than One Way to Skin A Cat: Finding Death Records