Friday, April 4, 2014

Darned Double Death Certificate

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

I found Jennette E. Britt’s death certificate on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. I was sore amazing when they didn’t look the same.

FamilySearch.org copy, death certificate for Jennette E Britt
Source: "North Carolina, Davidson County Vital Records, 1867-1984," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11026-151471-57 : accessed 15 Mar 2014), Death records > 1918, Vol 005 > image 356 of 392; citing Register of Deeds, Lexington.


Ancestry.com copy, death certificate for Jennette E Britt
Source: Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Death Certificates, 1909-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Original data: North Carolina State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. North Carolina Death Certificates. Microfilm S.123. Rolls 19-242, 280, 313-682, 1040-1297. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.


What gives? Are these certificates for two different people? Why are they so different?

If they are for the same person, why are there two different certificates?

Would you give more evidentiary value to one than the other? Why or why not?

What role, if any, do source citations play in evaluating this conundrum?

Does one of these corroborate the other? Why or why not?

Post your thoughts. I’d like to hear what you have to say. Don’t click Reply; instead, click the Comments link just after the article.

Darned Double Death Certificate. Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

24 comments:

  1. It appears that all the information is the same. The FamilySearch copy is on a Bureau of Vital Statistics form, whereas the Ancestry copy is on a Bureau of the Census form and additionally has some stamped numbers, "19005" and "431" which lead me to believe that it was more "Official". Latter form appears to have signatures whereas the former seems to be "working papers", all written by the same person.

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  2. The FamilySearch certificate is for Davidson County, North Caroline, filed at the county level as #74. The Ancestry certificate, also #74 with a stamped number 431, is the state level registration, the information on both is the same.

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  3. Of COURSE they're the same person! Father and mother and age are all consistent. I've seen more differences when there's only one document - the age is wrong, parents are mixed up, etc.

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  4. Agree with Finn. The information is all identical, but the State certificate shows different handwriting for different entries, indicating that it was the original certificate filled out by Dr. Peacock, the undertaker Mr. Green, and the registrar, Mr. Harris. If you look closely, Mr. Harris's signature is the same on both documents. And looking at the handwriting, it appears that Mr. Harris completed the county copy, as it appears to be in his handwriting. According to all the rules of evidence, more credence should be given to the State copy, even though all the information is the same.

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  5. This occurs frequently. Vital records were copied so duplicates existed in and for different officials/ bureaucracies/organizations. What was one to do before the advent of copiers? The interesting challenge for genealogists: checking copies against the originals to make sure the transcription was accurate. Really important if there is any doubt about names (Thomas versus Thomson) and numbers (3 versus 8).

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  6. Tell us, please, the differences you see. Other than that they are forms from different agencies, the content of the forms themselves seems the same as do the handwritten entries on both. I'm not seeing what you're seeing other than that one is a federal form & one's a state form.

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  7. Nice opportunity to make this comparison - thank you. As noted, what's important for people researching her is that the essential info is the same. I would think (could be wrong) that the North Carolina form would have been done first, at the time of her death, while the Census form, using a national form with the state stamped in, would have been in relation to the 1920 census (??). Also of interest to research is that Mrs. Britt was a victim of the worldwide 1918 influenza pandemic.

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  9. I have 2 different death certificates for my grandmother: one right after she died - signed by the local county registrar (I was executor of her estate). Many years later, I ordered a death certificate from the state because I had misplaced my original (later found). The information in both certificates was the same, though there was much more detail on the state certificate filed by the doctor.

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  10. I believe the only person who actually signed either of these documents was B. H. Harris. Copy 2 is likely the original document given to B H Harris and filed with the Dept of Commerce/Dept of the Census for state the state of NC. Copy 1 was a handwritten copy done by B H Harris filed with the Davidson County. Copy 1 was a local copy and copy 2 was officially filed with the state...hence the "official" stamps.

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  11. Wisconsin has a dual recording system. One document is recorded in the county and the other is recorded at the state level. While the information is the same - or should be, the forms are completely different.

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  12. They were filed (and my guess is filled out) on the same day. I agree that it seems Mr. Harris filled out the Board of Health form entirely, while his signature stayed the same on Census form. It looks to me as if Dr. Peacock filled out the majority of the Board of Health form judging by his signature, and then it was signed by Mr. Harris. My guess would be that Dr. Peacock took the down the information straight from the informant, Frank Brewer, and then went soon after to Mr. Harris to get the Registrar's signature, who then copied the information directly. Although it's possible Mr. Harris could have even been there at the same time filling out a separate form. I didn't happen to notice any contradictions or information that was on one that wasn't on the other (except for the stamped numbers). The Board of Health form is more legible, but technically I think I would give more value to the Census form if a contradiction did happen to be present.

    Also I would definitely not describe these two certificates as being "so different". Besides the handwriting and the Agency Title, they are almost identical.

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  13. I suggest that the document with the # 19005 at the top is a copy of the original in that the fill in date at the bottom is 191- versus the original is 19--.

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  14. I agree that they are two different forms. Filled out by different persons. Handwriting is different on each form

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  15. One is at the State Level, the other at the Federal Level. If I had to submit evidence of this person's death for a lineage, I'd submit the State one, as that most likely was filled out by the attending Physician and occurred the closest to the event. The other is a copy, transcribed by someone else which could introduce error.

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  16. I think you really need to see the "originals" not a copy on a data site or microfilm. Always best to look at the original filed locally closest to where the birth took place.

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    1. Absolutely. Also, remember the question was asked, "What role, if any, do source citations play in evaluating this conundrum? " See my comment on April 5.

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  17. It looks to me as though the registrar, B.H. Harris, signed the 2nd certificate (see signature bottom left), which is definitely written by someone different from the writing on the rest of the certificate. And then the same B.H. Harris completed the top certificate -- the writing on this is identical, and in particular the registrar's signature. While on first appearance, the writing, signature, and the ink of the person who completed the burial information at the bottom right on the 2nd form (JC Green) is similar to that of the doctor, JW Peacock, who seems to have been the doctor who completed the form, I think they are written by different people. Look at how "J" is written in the signature of JW Peacock, versus the "J" of JC Green, the undertaker -- they are quite different. Also, the "C" in NC in the address under JW Peacock's signature is very different for the "C" in NC at the very bottom right of the certificate.

    My best guess is that the 2nd certificate was written first and was contemporaneous. The doctor (JW Peacock) completed the majority of the form on 10/24/18, and the death was then registered (maybe by the family) the same day and signed by the Registrar (B.H. Harris). After Jennette had been buried, the form was then signed by the undertaker (JC Green) on 10/25.

    I have no idea about the normal requirements in North Carolina and duplicate certificates, and this may have been done routinely, with the Registrar requiring the certificate be returned for completion of the registration, and at that time it was copied (by B.H. Harris) and passed on to the Bureau of Statistics (top certificate). However, this may have been a special situation, where specific information was collected on the 1918-1919 flu pandemic (http://ncpedia.org/history/health/influenza), which would have not ordinarily been collected. So with this reasoning, the top form would not have been written until 10/25 or later.

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  18. Keep in mind that this was filed at the height of the Influenza Epidemic. You're lucky you got one at all. Let alone with all the family info completed. Many certificates during this frantic time had only the name and very little else.

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  19. I live in Montgomery County, North Carolina and most of my family has lived here for generations. I've seen this more than once. It seems that one would be filled out then copies made by someone else, I always figured a clerk. I'll have to look for some of my duplicates to see if some pattern emerges (ie the influenza outbreak being cause of death) or it was just the practice back then. All the information is the same, though from time to time I've seen a little more information on one.

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  20. The certificate from FamilySearch identifies it as an image with the citation "Register of Deeds", Lexington. This makes me wonder if the certificate from Ancestry is the "actual" death certificate, completed close to the time of her death. Then, for purposes of transfer of land, perhaps, a copy of her death certificate was needed. A copy was then handwritten by someone in state department of vital statistics. The sources of the images and dates thereof are important. This might be a clue to more data and should be the focus.

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    1. It seems pretty clear that both forms were filled out nearly at the same time, as they were both filed on 24 Oct 1918 and signed by the same registrar, B.H. Harris. While the State form may be a copy I don't believe it was done any significant amount of time after the death, a few hours at most. Not that the amount of time that has elapsed lessens any chance of a transcription error (though there doesn't seem to be any). But as I pointed out before, it's even possible that the two forms were filled out essentially at the same time by two different people working in the same room. My guess would be that at the time both a Federal (Bureau of the Census) and State (Bureau of Vital Statistics) record were required. (literally) Bureaucracy at work. I would be interested to see how many of these instances (double death certificates) one could find, and for how long a time period.

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  21. One copy was filed with the state of North Carolina on their form and the other copy was filed with the county on their form. Not all of the county copies are on Ancestry but the state copies are there.

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    1. I do think the focus should perhaps be on the "why" there are two certificates. Looking at the source for the images of the certificates is essential.

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