How death certificates can advance your research
It is never a good idea to rely on family members for information. Memories can become distorted and stories, once erroneous, may have now become family lore. I have been researching my Great Grandmother, Millie Green. My father’s memories are hazy to say the least, and there are no other siblings still alive to corroborate the information I’ve collected. There were so many things I could not find from his memories of his grandmother. As a member of ancestry.com, I could find Emily Green in the 1911 UK census, and find details on her death in Melbourne. However, it was not until I actually downloaded the death certificate that all the clues my father had thought were correct were either proved or invalidated.
In addition, the certificate provided many other facts which enabled my research to continue.
Information provided on the certificate
- Age: you can then work out a more specific date of birth. So use a death certificate to find a birth certificate. My problem is that my Great Grandmother was born in Russia and her maiden name could be spelt a number of ways or be completely different in Russian. This is my next brick wall.
- Occupation: May prove useful.
- Address: Use census and electoral rolls to track down residence information.
- Cause of death: More important here is whether or not there was an inquest to follow up.
- Date of death and burial: the cemetery where the burial took place. Exact dates are also useful instead of approximating them.
- Names of parents: This provides the names and maiden name of the parents, as well as the occupation of the father. For me, as I know my Great Grandmother emigrated from England, I could go the census and find her parents, and from there, more siblings, residential information etc.
- Place of birth and how long lived in Australia: Locating an approximate date of arrival means you can search the shipping lists into Australia and, conversely, shipping lists into Canada, UK or the U.S, which may indicate when they left their country of birth.
- Marriage: the name of the spouse, at what age they were married and where they were married. This provides a more specific starting point for locating marriage certificates and a time period when the first child may have been born.
- Condition of the marriage at death: if the spouse is not dead, further clues can be searched.
- The number of children and ages, in order of birth: As my Great Grandmother had 12 children, this little nugget of information was priceless.
Before I received the death certificate, all I knew about my Great Grandmother was that she came from England, her maiden name was Baskin and she had a lot of kids.
Locating the death certificate
Births, Deaths and Marriages in Victoria, Australia has a family history link where you can search for and order online death certificates. An uncertified image is specially designed for family history research. It is a scanned image of the original registration record which you can download to your computer immediately. To find your certificate, you need the registration number of the death and the year the death was registered.
To search their index to obtain the registration number costs money. So annoying! If you have an ancestry subscription, you can find the registration number on its database and then order the image. However, if there is no other way, this is the information provided in the Victorian historical and marine indexes.
- births in Victoria from 1853 to 1911
- marriages in Victoria from 1853 to 1942
- deaths in Victoria from 1853 to 1985
- church baptisms, marriages and burials in Victoria from 1836 to 1853.
Each entry includes the:
- name of the person or people the entry relates to
- type of event (such as birth, marriage or death)
- name of the ship the event happened on (if in the marine index)
- registration year and registration number
- other information relevant to the type of event.
Reliability of the death certificate
Obtaining a death certificate elsewhere
- UK: Using the GRO to research your family history
- U.S: How and where to find United States vital records
- A good online site for centralized information on where to get U.S vital records is Vital Records Information. Also, many USGenWeb county sites have information on how to get vital records in their county.