Thursday, June 2, 2011

Research Tip : My Great-Grandfather Had Three Death Certificates! (Part 3)

To wind up the series about access to death records in the State of Michigan at all three levels of government, we'll discuss county & local... 

Counties began keeping records of death in 1867 just as the State of Michigan did, at least most of them.  According to Red Book : American State, County, and Town Sources, third edition [2004], there were some northern counties that didn't begin until a few years later, such as:  Chippewa [1869], Alger [1884], and Iron [1895].  Typically, original death records are housed in the county courthouse with varying degrees of accessibility. 

County clerk's offices in Michigan have let's say different "personalities."  Some are very congenial in allowing the examination of records per state law.  Others have been known to take it upon themselves to restrict accessibility even further.  I won't name any specific county, but will advise you to familiarize yourself with the rules of the office before your visit.  Find out their research hours.   There may be a different set of research hours from that of the office's regular business hours.  Find out their research policies.  Are you allowed to check the indexes yourself?  Can you view the actual record?  Does the office have a reduced fee for "genealogy" non-certified copies?  Is access only granted when volunteers are present?  Above all, don't just "show up" without checking these things out.  You may be turned away.

For decades the Family History Center (FHC) has made Michigan's earlier vital records & indexes available on microfilm.  These can be viewed in person in Salt Lake City, or reels of microfilm can be ordered, for a fee, and viewed at the FHC branch nearest you.  This has been my method of choice for researching county vital records for a long time.  Simply visit the FHC catalog, do a "Place" search, and select "Vital Records" to find out what is available. 

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) is a licensed microfilm loan site of the FHC, and there are a few other libraries around that have done this, but no others in Southwest Michigan.  There are also FHC branches in the vicinity located at Church of Latter-Day Saint churches in Benton Harbor, South Bend, South Haven & Kalamazoo.  Many of these branches have area vital records on indefinite loan, meaning that you can stop in anytime while they are open and view these films.  The VBDL Indefinite Loan list of microfilm is online.

Keep in mind that many early county vital records have been transcribed and published into books by area genealogical & historical societies.  To find out if your area of interest has such publications, visit the WorldCat online catalog of world library collections.

Local level death records that were to be kept by the township supervisor can be very useful in that they may contain additional information, but can be difficult to locate.  Because vital records are no longer kept at the local level [I've not seen any beyond the 1950's], there is no contemporary caretaker for these records.  In your search for local level death records, check the following locations:
There are other possibilities including that some of these records are in private hands, and some have been lost or destroyed.  My advice is to start making inquiries until you are satisfied that your search is complete. 

My readers are encouraged to contact me with information about the location of Southwest Michigan local level vital records.