Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Shh! A Little Secret I Discovered in Online Michigan Death Records

I was thrilled when I read Diane Gould Hall's post on photoduplication requests from FamilySearch, as I have over a dozen ancestors who died in Michigan between 1921 and 1952. FamilySearch has a database without images that includes an index of the Michigan death records for this time period. I had already ordered several death certificates through the state a number of years ago, but I quickly compiled a list of ones I was lacking in order to start my photoduplication requests. Early Saturday morning, July 26th, I ordered my monthly limit of five, which included great-grandfather Howard Merkel YORK (1945); his father James L. YORK (1933); 2nd-great-grandmother Mary J. (WILKINSON) LEWIS (1940); 2nd-great-grandfather Tjamme Wiegers "James" VALK (1922); and 2nd-great-grandfather Geert Aukes "George" TUINSTRA (1928). By Monday morning, July 28th, I had five emails from FamilySearch with the requested state death certificates attached. Boy! did that make my day!

As I took each death certificate and analyzed it, I added the information to my RootsMagic database and cited it correctly. Then I moved the image from my computer folder "Downloads" to the appropriate genealogy folder for that individual. Imagine my surprise, when I went to move my image for George Tuinstra's death certificate into his folder, to find another, similar image! (Click any image below to enlarge.)

Michigan Department of Health, death certificate no. 14112662 (1928), George Tunstra [sic]; Division of Vital Statistics, Lansing. FHL microfilm 1,972,820.

Death certificate of George "Tunstra" which was sitting in his genealogy folder on my hard drive. [1]

Hmm. Upon closer examination of the metadata on the image found in the genealogy folder, I discovered I had downloaded it from the SeekingMichigan site on 15 April 2009.

WAIT JUST A DARN MINUTE! The death certificates at SeekingMichigan are for the 1897 to 1920 time period! How the heck did I obtain a 1928 death certificate from that site? I couldn't tell whether the metadata had automatically come with the image or if I had entered it. I wasn't keeping source citations as well in 2009 as to where I obtained my digital info. Perhaps I had entered SeekingMichigan as the source by mistake. So off I went to SeekingMichigan to see if I could duplicate my search and results.

George's last name is spelled "Tunstra" on his death certificate (never mind that Tuinstra is spelled correctly for his wife's and father's names on the same document!), so that is the name I searched for. Incredibly, his record appeared! Apparently back in 2009, I had done searches on variations of the Tuinstra name to find his relatives who died during the 1897 to 1920 time period, and had come up with his death certificate. I just never thought twice about the date being past 1920. So, was this just an anomaly?

Using the Advanced Search feature of SeekingMichigan, I searched for "All of the Words" equaling "1928" in "Death Year." WHOA! One thousand, two hundred ninety-one results, and they all appeared to come from Kent County! Immediately, I turned to my RootsMagic database and did an advanced search (Find) for death dates containing 1928 and death places that contained the words "Kent Co., Michigan." Besides George, there was Raymond VALK the infant son of my great-grandfather and his second wife, so I searched for him in SeekingMichigan. Sure enough, I found his death certificate, after playing with the spelling of his last name (Volk). 

Next, I started doing advanced searches on SeekingMichigan for various years outside the 1920 time limit. I was only able to come up with 1928 and 1929, both for Kent County, searching from 1921 through 1952. So if you have ancestors or relatives who died during those years in Kent County, go snag those images now, before someone from the state archives reads this post and pulls them offline. I'm fairly sure they're not supposed to be online! ;-) Shhh!

1. Michigan Department of Health, death certificate 14112662 (1928), George Tunstra [sic]; Division of Vital Statistics, Lansing; digital image, SeekingMichigan (http://www.seekingmichigan.org : accessed 15 April 2009).

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