Friday, January 16, 2015

Actual Cause of Death

It is well understood that birth information on death certificates is secondary. But for death and burial information, they generally provide primary information. Does that mean they are always right?

Consider the case of William Henry Malloch, died 10 August 1920 in Milltown, Charlotte, New Brunswick. The death certificate specifies one cause of death. His burial date suggests quite another.

Death certificate of William Henry Malloch of New Brunswick

Which date is wrong? How do you know?

As Tom Jones has said, “Conclusions about whether evidence is or is not correct results from aggregated evidence, not source-by-source assessment… A source’s accuracy is unknown until the researcher has accumulated enough evidence for tests of correlation—the comparison and contrasting of sources and information to reveal points of agreement and disagreement.”1

Darned clerking errors! Yes, records say the darnedest things!

Thank you, William Romanski, for this example.


     Image: “New Brunswick Provincial Deaths, 1815-1938,” index and image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 1 January 2015), William Henry Malloch, 10 Aug 1920; citing Milltown, Charlotte, New Brunswick, death certificate 004641, Provincial Archives, Fredericton; FHL microfilm 2,134,614.
     1.  Thomas W. Jones, “Skillbuilding: Perils of Source Snobbery,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 January 2015); citing OnBoard 18 (May 2012): 9-10, 15. See also, “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 1 January 2015).


  1. I'm confused. The cause of death is stated on the death certificate, not in the burial information. It seems to be that what is inconsistent is the DATE of death, not the CAUSE.

  2. Ditto. And given all the other days are consistent and in August, would take simply the burial month was miswrote as July instead of August. But the date of 12th seems correct. Also, see the age is likely mis-stated. Likely 70 and not 74. Unless they messed up the birth year.

  3. I wouldn't let those two differing dates bother me at all. It's pretty obvious that the clerk mis wrote the month of burial. I would try to obtain an obituary and look at the headstone or cemetery records to further confirm August as the date of death. I would make a note of the discrepancy in my citation.

  4. Dear readers,

    Don't take my comments about a possibly wrong cause of death too literally. They were tongue in cheek, made as if the burial date was correct.

    ---The Ancestry Insider


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