I’m so thankful that my mother’s ancestors settled in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The ease of access to Pennsylvania Death Certificates is mind-blowing! I’ve learned so much about my family through this access.
For example: I discovered three death certificates for infant daughters we knew nothing about. One was my grandmother’s sister, another was the (apparently) illegitimate daughter of a great-aunt, and the third was the youngest daughter of my great-aunt – who was named after my great-grandmother.
It has also helped with documenting medical history. We knew my aunt, grandmother, and great-aunt all died of cancer. We now know how their parents (and their grandparents) died.
None of these things were talked about while my mom was growing up, and she never thought to ask while her parents were still alive. And even if she had brought up some questions, she wouldn’t have known what questions to ask.
I’ve also traced “missing” female relatives through death certificates. My great-great grandfather’s death certificate information was given by his married daughter. And I blessed the old-fashioned practice of listing women by their husband’s name as it was then super easy to locate her!
The stories shared by death certificates can sometimes be heart-breaking. A great-great-aunt married a widower with a young child. I found his first wife’s death certificate and that of their second child. Both died within hours of each other.
Although we have to take a lot of information found on death certificates with a grain of salt (what does that saying mean, anyway??), when added to the rest of our research, we can develop a clearer and richer picture of our ancestors.