Friday, July 13, 2007

Another New Form - Family History Center Look Ups

I just posted another form on my website that I use whenever I do a record lookup at my local Family History Center for Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness and other genealogy volunteer groups. It's the Family History Center (FHC) Look Ups form.

Last night, I went to my local Family History Center and fulfilled some lookup requests that were sadly overdue. I've been so busy the last few months, I haven't gotten a chance to get up there. I haven't been that keen on fulfilling requests, lately, because some people have spent so little time on what records are available before they make a request. They ask for records that don't exist or that I don't have access to. Some want me to look up dozens of other words, do their research for them for free! Although these abusers (intentionally or not) of the volunteer system are few and far between, they annoy me enough to make me occasionally think I no longer want to do this. Then I remember how grateful I've been to those awesome volunteers who've gone beyond and above to find me things I would not have been able to access without their assistance, and I realize that I do enjoy passing the favor forward, very much!

One of the requests I recently received was for birth and marriage certificates from a county in Michigan. I sent the requester the following information:

I wanted to let you know the difference between certificates and records. Certificates (birth, marriage, and death) are issued by government offices. They are a piece of paper officially certifying that an event took place based on the records in their office. I am not a government agent; thus I have no access to birth and marriage certificates. A record is a recording of an event, in this case, of a birth, marriage, or death event.

In 1867, the State of Michigan required county clerks to record vital records (birth, marriages and deaths) in libers (large volumes). These were collected by town clerks who basically took a census of the township, recorded their findings, and turned them over to the county clerks to be recorded in the official libers. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City sent representatives to county clerks offices in Michigan and received permission to microfilm many of these libers, usually through the years 1915 to 1920 or so (depends on the county). I have access to copies of these microfilms at my local Family History Center (local branch of the Family History Library) and can look for copies of the records you requested.

Marriage records were actually kept by the district courts (not county clerks) before 1867; they began in 1805, when Michigan was a territory, not a state. The reason they are court records is because in a marriage, two properties (real [land] and/or personal) are brought together, and in the event of death or divorce, the court has to make sure that the properties are then dispersed to the proper parties.

Death certificates were not issued until 1897 in Michigan, the same year marriage licenses were required and divorce statistics were kept. Marriage certificates were not issued until 1897, either, but only by request of the bride or groom. Birth certificates were not issued until 1905. If you order a certificate from the state or county for records earlier than these dates (1897/1905), you are only wasting your money. You will get a copy of the birth record (from the county liber) typed or written onto a blank form and copied onto expensive certificate paper. It is not a copy of a real certificate, because certificates were not given before those dates.

I hope this clears this up for you. I highly recommend the following book: Michigan Genealogy: Sources & Resources by Carol McGinnis. I also recommend the following free resource from the FamilySearch site on Michigan resources: Michigan Research Outline (you can click on the "printable version" link on the right side of that page to print up a booklet of this resource).

I think I may create a "Read This Page First Before Making Look Up Requests" page on my website, and link it to the information I list on the genealogy volunteer websites, like RAOGK. I'll probably add the above information.

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