Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Finding Genealogy Gems in Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1944

Ancestry.com recently updated the Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1944 to their list of online indexed databases, along with the images of the actual death certificates.  These are real "Genealogy Gems."

The Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1944, database is at  http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5164.  The database description says:

"Pennsylvania’s Department of Health began keeping birth and death records on a statewide basis on January 1, 1906. This collection includes death records beginning on that date through 1944. Later records will eventually be added to this collection.

"Death certificates recorded the following details:
  • name and residence of the decedent
  • city and county of death
  • gender and race
  • marital status
  • age and date of birth
  • occupation
  • place of birth
  • parents' names and birthplaces
  • date of death
  • dates attended by physician
  • cause of death
  • attending physician and address
  • length of stay in hospital or institution or length of residency for transients or recent arrivals
  • place of burial or removal
  • date of burial
  • undertaker name and address
  • name and address of informant
"Records of stillbirths were required to be filed as both a birth and death record, so you may find records of stillborn children in this collection."

Here is the search page for this database:




I wanted to "mine" this database for Carringer persons, since many of my distant Carringer cousins died in Pennsylvania in this time period.  I added Carringer to the last name field in the screen above and clicked on "Search:"


There were 50 matches, and I worked on them one at a time.  for this post, I clicked on the second one on the list - Margaret R. Carringer.  The record summary is below:


The indexed information for this entry includes the age, birth date, birth place, death date, death place, father's name and birthplace, and the mother's name and birthplace.

Clicking on the "View original image" link provides the actual death certificate for Margaret R. Carringer:


When I first clicked on Margaret's certificate, I did not know her maiden name, or her death date.  I knew only that she was born in 1824 in Pennsylvania based on census records.  I was able to add the following information to her person profile in my family tree database:

*  Maiden name
*  Parent's names
*  Birth date and place
*  Death date and place
*  Cause of death
*  Relationship to parents

The death date, death place, and cause of death are Primary Information (a contemporaneous record provided by an eyewitness or knowledgeable person to the County authorities).  The other items are Secondary Information (based on hearsay, not a contemporaneous record from an eyewitness or knowledgeable person).  But the Secondary Information provides much more information than I had before, and I added it to my database with a source citation to (using the Vital Records (state, certificates, online) source template in RootsMagic):

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1944, No. 12801 (stamped), Margaret R. Carringer entry, died 9 February 1909; indexed database and digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 July 2014); citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/).

I marked the source quality for the maiden name, birth date, birth place, and parents' names as Original Source, Secondary Information, and Direct Evidence.

I was able to add 5 or 6 maiden names, and parents names, to my database just from this set of 50 Carringer matches.  I had all but 5 of the 50 entries in my database already.  I added about 100 source citations to the database also.  In some cases, I had the death information from the Pennsylvania Death Index, 1906-1961 collection, but did not have the birth information nor the parents' names of the decedents.  In some cases, the name of the spouse was provided.

One of the neat things that Ancestry.com  indexed in this database is the parent's names.  They appear as matches even when the death certificate is for a person who died with another surname than what I searched.  This finds many, but probably not all, of the death certificates for persons born with the target surname.

I still have a lot of names to check in this database.  I've now done the Seaver and Carringer names, and need to do Feather, Spangler, Vaux and Remley.  

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2014/07/finding-genealogy-gems-in-pennsylvania.html

copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


4 comments:

Joanne Cowden said...

Please note that the transcription of the records in this database has some problems. It appears that the people who worked on this are not entirely comfortable with cursive or not located in the US. I found a relative who died in "Pittsburgh, Oa" and another who was born in "Moline, Hleriois." You may want to try wildcards when searching for surnames as they also may be transcribed incorrectly. But it's still a great resource!

Claudia said...

Almost all of my ancestors came and stayed in PA. Each time I find an error, and there have been a few, I send a correction to Ancestry.

The most exciting part for me was to find the maiden name for my 2x great grandmother. It was in a death record for my great grandfather's brother John, who I did not know about at all.

Geolover said...

Ditto Joanne's and Claudia's comments regarding indexing/extracts of this collection. There are many errors, even when the information was typed.

It is an excellent boon for this collection that the reader can add corrections for parents' names and birth places as extracted.

Jack Cayton said...

In spite of some indexing errors one of the best "finds" was the quality of the image download. It was far superior than the certified copy for a great uncle that I received from the PA Dept of Health six years ago. The copy machine did not like the blue ink on the certificate. Jack