Friday, May 27, 2011

Research Tip : My Great-Grandfather Had Three Death Certificates! (Part 2)

Continuing from Part 1 of My Great-Grandfather Had Three Death Certificates! posted on May 19, we will discuss where to search for those state level death records. 

Michigan's original vital records are housed at the Michigan Vital Records Office in Lansing.  If you wish to have a certified copy of a death certificate you may retrieve it in person, by mail, or per online order.   For those of us who are just extracting information from death certificates, I wouldn't recommend making the visit to the Vital Records Office unless there is no other way.

The Library of Michigan, Lansing, has microfilm of the state's death records, 1867-1920, including indexes.  These films may be accessed anytime during the Library's regular business hours, which have changed lately so check your times before you make the trip.

For online users, Michigan's death records, 1867-1897, may be located at the Family Search Labs of the Family History Center.  Many of the Labs databases are images only without indexes, but Michigan's deaths have been fully indexed, transcribed and include attached images of the original record.    A little tip - if you do a search for a person whose name may be fairly common and you get a large hit list, you can filter down your search to include only the Michigan deaths rather than a global search of all of the databases.  This can be done by entering "Michigan" into the "Location" field, or after the search by selecting the "Collection" tab at the top of the search results and checking the box for "Michigan Deaths, 1867-1897."

Michigan Deaths, 1897-1920, may be searched and viewed at Seeking Michigan, co-sponsored by the Library of Michigan and the State Archives of Michigan.  To search the death records, select the "Search Advanced" link at the bottom of the orange "Seek" box.  This will take you to a page that will allow you to search for a death by any of the following criteria:  first name, last name, city/town, year of death, county of death, birth year, father's last name, father's given name, age of decedent.   

When I first discovered this site, I looked for my ancestor, Joshua Drake, who I know from the county record died in 1906, but couldn't locate him on Seeking Michigan.  Later I was told that not all of the records had been added yet, so today I tried the search again and did find him.  It looks as though all of the records for the 1897-1920 time period have now been loaded.

One thing that annoys me about the search interface on the Seeking Michigan death records is that there is no way to revise a search.  In other words, every time a search is made you have to start over with a new search, and with so many blanks to fill in that can get tedious.  It is nice, however, to have so many options for searching.  I have found more than one elusive female by searching by her first name and her father's last name, or other combinations of search criteria.

The pre-runner to the Seeking Michigan death records was the GENDIS project (Genealogical Death Indexing System), a project sponsored by the Michigan Genealogical Council (MGC) in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Community Health.  There aren't as many search possibilities with GENDIS, but you might have different search results using it.  Also, some libraries around the state, including our Local History Collection, have a print version of the GENDIS project because the MGC made the volumes available for free to their member genealogical societies.  These indexes were done in multiple volumes and include:  last name, first name, middle name/initial, death date, and codes for the county and original ledger page.  For researchers that like the "browse factor" these indexes are great. 

Not to be left out is Ancestry.com who has a database, Michigan Deaths, 1971-1996.  This is a database only, no images of records, but includes:  name, death date & place, birth date, gender & residence. 

The obvious omission in the Michigan deaths records, is the periods 1920-1970 & 1997 to present.  I've been told that the Seeking Michigan project may later include post 1920 records, so we can look forward to that, but in the meantime a search for state level records for these periods may have to be done at the Michigan Vital Records Office.  I invite my readers to contact me with information about alternative access options for Michigan's state level death records.

Next time we'll move on to county & local level death records...