Michael Gets Some [Illinois Death] Certificates

Part I of this series--using the index

    Given Name(s) Last Name

from the Ancestry Daily News
  by Michael John Neill 6/19/2002

Note: The Illinois Death Certificate Index is online at:

Last week's article discussed some search techniques for the online Illinois Death Certificate Index. Users of the database are reminded to consider those ideas and spelling and transcription errors when searching the index.

I found several references in the Illinois Death Certificate Index that I had not found before and decided it was time to get the records. A few certificates I had obtained years ago were not as legible as I would like so I decided to obtain additional copies since the price was reasonable (free when receiving the certificates through the mail two at a time, or 20 cents each when making copies myself). Not being able to wait for the certificates to come to me, I decided to go to the certificates. (Sorry, I am unable to provide this service to Daily News readers.) I searched the online death certificate index extensively before my trip and copied and pasted each desired result into a Word document. This gave me a complete list of all the certificates I wanted, complete with the entire reference.

As the Illinois State Archives website points out, the online index does contain errors. It also indicates that the index is an official record and cannot be changed. I found one error myself. The index entry for Ida Miller in 1936 indicates she died in Adams County, in the city of Chicago. The death actually took place in Quincy, which is noted on the certificate. Chicago is located in Cook County. The website also indicates some additional known errors.

The seventeen certificates I copied were fairly typical for the time period. All of them were reasonably legible, except for the one I wanted the most. Scans of some of the certificates I located are at: www.rootdig.com/ildeaths/index.html

Louisa Meyers--legibility problems
Louisa Meyers died in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, in 1920. She was a sister of an ancestor who died in 1888 before death certificates contained "good genealogical information." I was hoping Louisa's certificate would provide information not listed on her sister's certificate. I was disappointed.

Louisa's father is listed simply as "Bigert" without a first name. Her mother is listed as "unknown." Their places of birth are listed as "Illinois." The surname of the father matches other records. Based upon other records, the places of birth for each parent are incorrect. Louisa's father died when she was very small and this could explain why little was known about him. The mother and Louisa actually lived in the same small town until the mother's death in 1903.

The city of death is difficult to read as well. Already having a good idea of the location of death and being familiar with many place names in the county of death I was able to "read" the death location. If this had not been the case, I would have had to get a map and looked at the names of the towns and villages. Reading the name of the death location would have been difficult. Had the location been totally foreign to me, the only real clue the handwriting would have given me was that the first letter of the town was the only tall letter in the word. That is, after the first letter, the word only contained letters such as a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x (none of the letters after the first one went above that dashed line one sees on writing tablets of school children).

Unfortunately, Louisa died in January of 1920 and consequently will not be listed on the 1920 census. I should however, track her through earlier censuses if I have not already done so.

Samuel Neill---unexpected death location
Samuel lived virtually all his life near the town of West Point, Hancock County, Illinois. This is the same place where he is buried and where his death certificate indicates he was born. It is not, however, where he died in 1947. He died at an address in Monmouth, Warren County, Illinois, where according to the certificate he had been for three days. A quick read of the certificate indicated a son lived in the area, but in this case (like in many) a quick read is not what we should be doing.

There is an additional research nuance to this certificate. The certificate for Samuel does not indicate what is located at the 515 E. Euclid Avenue address where Samuel's death occurred. The son listed as the informant (and whom I suspect Samuel went to visit or live with) has an address in one of the outlying small towns near Monmouth, not an address in the city of Monmouth itself. If Samuel died in an institution, this certificate does not name it. I might have accidentally provided myself an additional clue.

When I copied Samuel's certificate, I also happened to copy the top part of the next certificate. This individual also died at 515 E. Euclid Avenue and had resided there only one day. It seems reasonable there was a hospital or something similar at the address in 1947. Additional follow up with a local historical or genealogical society may answer my question.

Brothers---one died with details and one did not
My ancestor John Michael Trautvetter died in 1917. His death certificate gives his and his parents' place of birth simply as Germany. This "extremely specific" location is not sufficient to begin further research on this family. John's brother George was the informant on the 1917 record. When this brother George died in 1930, his son Henry H. does the entire family a favor and gives specific locations. Henry lists George's exact place of birth as Wolmuthausen, Germany and the birthplace of George's father as Wildprechtroda, Germany. The spellings may be off, but at least I have a place to begin my research. Just because a document with George as the informant did not provide specific birth locations does not mean that he did not know those locations. If I had ignored his death certificate based upon what he gave on my ancestor's I would have missed several important clues.

George's death in November of 1930 tells me he should be listed in the 1930 census. The certificate indicates he had lived in Warsaw, Illinois for twenty-four years. If this is correct, he should be listed in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census for the city of Warsaw.

My Great Uncle---more than I expected
The death certificate of my great uncle indicated he died in a July 1937 car accident in Quincy, Illinois, and that after his death an inquest was held. Family members had previously indicated he and his wife had "troubles" but were not specific and only mentioned that the couple had separated. The death certificate was a little more to the point and listed his marital status as "divorced." This certificate was a real eye-opener and in this case may just be the starting point to finding more records. The certificate also indicated he had worked for his current employer for nine years. My initial attempts to locate him in the 1930 census should focus on Quincy, Illinois, and expand from there.

Cause of Death Not Everything
My great-grandfather's 1934 cause of death is listed as having stemmed from an accidental fall out of a hospital bed. The certificate does not indicate that he had several strokes before he was finally hospitalized and that the strokes were what really led to the problem. Interestingly enough, his father and maternal grandmother also died from strokes. His daughter (my grandmother) died from a stroke as well. In this case, the certificates might even be warning me about my diet and exercise.

My attempts to locate this great-grandfather in the 1930 census should start with the rural area listed as his residence on the death certificate. He is known to have moved several times after his 1898 marriage but his address at the time of his death in 1934 is the closest record I have to the 1930 census. There are no directories for the county in which he lived closer to the date of the census than his death record.

Why Get Them?
I'm frequently asked the worth of obtaining documents when "I already know what it will say anyway." We may think we know what a document will say. There are times when the document confirms what we already knew (or thought we knew) from other records. It is those times when we are wrong though that makes all the difference in our research. And when obtaining the record is not cost prohibitive (the Illinois State Archives will send two at time at no charge) there's no reason not to.

A Final Warning
If you have not read the pages on the IL State Death Index that explains the index and some limitations, please do!


Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: mailto:mneill@asc.csc.cc.il.us or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2002, MyFamily.com.

Used by the author on his website with permission.

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