• Death Records

    The most important documents for you to collect are the vital records for each of your ancestors, starting with the most recent and working backward in time. The place to start is with death certificates of relatives who died on this side of the ocean. These generally contain the date and place of death, age or date of birth, cause of death, place of residence, cemetery where buried, name of funeral home, attending physician, and person giving the information. Sometimes the names of parents and spouses are listed. Death certificates are only as accurate as the person who gave the information so other sources need to be checked too, but they are still essential in the total documentation of your ancestors' lives.

    If your family member died after 1900, there will almost always be provincial, state or county death records available. Each state varies as to where the records are kept and how much a copy will cost. Your local public library and Mormon branch library usually have books that will give you information on where to write for death certificates in your area. The book most generally consulted is The Handy Book for Genealogists edited by George B. Everton, Sr., Everton Publishers, Inc. PO Box 368, Logan, UT 84321. Some states charge quite a high fee for a death certificate, so a much less expensive way to obtain one is to consult the Locality Catalog at your local Mormon branch library to see if the death certificates for your area have been microfilmed. Then you can order the appropriate film and make a copy at much less cost.

    Often obituaries contain even more information than death certificates. Again, the accuracy of these news reports are only as good as the informant, but they certainly should be collected. In fact, it is well to search through every newspaper covering your deceased relative's community because one paper may carry different information than another. Again, your local public and Mormon branch libraries can help you to locate the appropriate newspapers to search through. A standard guide to locating newspapers is American Newspapers, 1821-1936, a Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada, edited by Winifred Gregory, published in New York by H. W. Wilson, 1937. This has been microfilmed by the Mormon Library on their Film No. 430,291. Almost every state and province now has a newspaper program of some kind with published lists of their holdings. These are constantly being updated. Again, many of these are included in the Mormon Library collection. Also, you can frequently order a microfilm of a newspaper by means of interlibrary loan. For example, the Seattle Public Library can order a film or book for you from any other library in the US or Canada unless the requested item is restricted for some reason.

    Funeral home and cemetery records, including the actual gravestones, are another valuable source of information. Today many funeral homes offer the service of researching their old records for you for a small fee, and they can provide you with a wealth of vital information about birth and death dates, marriages, children, other next of kin, copy of an obituary notice, relationship of the deceased to the owner of the cemetery lot, names of other relatives buried in the same lot, and other odd bits of family history. The sexton or manager of the cemetery also holds valuable records similar to those held by the funeral home and including information on those for whom there are no headstones. If your relative was buried in a distant location from you and you do not know the address, there are several cemetery and funeral home directories available that can give you this information. Again, they are available to you through your public or your Mormon Library, which has also microfilmed many cemetery records.

    Suzanne Greif Alskog, Swedish Finn Historical Society
    June Pelo