Genealogy Ramblings

What Can We Learn From A Death Certificate?

Death Certificate of Emeline Coulter

Some may think death certificates are morbid, but to a genealogist they can be a wealth of information.  Death certificates were issued in Kentucky beginning in 1911.  What exactly can we learn from one?

The death certificate attached is for my great-great-grandmother Emeline White Coulter.  This certificate is from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and listed at the top is the county of death – Bullitt – and the voting precinct, Mount Washington.  This was something I did not know.  Previous to finding the death certificate, Washington County was the only residence I had for Emeline.  She must have moved there to be with one of her children as she grew older.  Closer to the bottom of the certificate is the informant – the person who gave all the pertinent information about the death, and life, of Mrs. Emeline Coulter.  George Barnard is the name on the certificate.  I know that Emeline’s daughter, Nancy, married Newton Barnard, and they had a son George.  This must be Emeline’s grandson.  Most of the time the informant is a family member.  If the name does not sound familiar do a little detective work to see if it could possibly be a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchild, etc.

Beneath the deceased’s name is a box for personal and statistical particulars.  Emeline was born June 23, 1829.  She died February 25, 1912, – she was 82 years, 8 months and 2 days old.  It gives the sex, race, martial status, date of birth, age – in years, months and days.  There is a box for occupation.  Although for many women this is left blank – some list housewife.  The birth information includes state or country, name of father and birthplace, and name of mother and birthplace.  This can be very helpful if you have no idea where the parents were born.  According to the death certificate Emeline’s parents were Riley White, born in North Carolina, and Mary Lewis, born in Washington County, KY.  Her father’s full name was Samuel Riley White, but this leads us to believe he was known by his middle name, Riley.  Could this possibly be a family name?  Perhaps his mother’s maiden name?

As a note of caution, there are mistakes on birth certificates.  It really depends on how well the informant knew the deceased.  Here again, check the information through other sources if possible – especially if you know or suspect it is incorrect.

On the other side of the certificate is the date and cause of death.  Place of burial is towards the bottom of the certification.  Sometimes the cemetery is listed, sometimes just the name of the town where the loved one was buried.  McFarland Brothers is listed as undertaker on this certificate.  If they happened to still be in business perhaps further information – especially as to place of burial – may be available.  Also, in 1912 there should be a local paper that would list obituaries – another valuable source!

All in all, a death certificate offers much valuable information and is a great resource for the genealogist.

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