In genealogy, when we order vital records, we often get a typed, certified copy from the city or town we order it from. Although this is a good start and can prove useful, one should always aim to see the original to compare and, if possible, make a copy/take a photograph of.
Why is this?
1. The Back of the Certificate
Just like today, people often wrote notes on the back of a piece of paper. Although you may not find one, imagine if you found a little note that helped you further your search.
In this example, the back of the certificate (the top part on the image) has the phrase “Baptism St James Epis.”. This led to a lot of information from the Episcopal Diocese of Buffalo on my Whitehead family.
2. Missing Information in Fill-In-The-Blank Forms
Not all information on a vital record will not necessarily be told to you on a fill-in-the-blank form used by the town clerk to send you the information. One example of this is a name change. Here is an example of the birth certificate of my great-grandfather, Alfred Casell, that he had and that I was lucky enough to come into possession of.
I could have stopped with this, saying I had proof of when and where he was born and had a full certificate of his twin sister which proved who their parents were. However, I knew I may be able to find more information, so I got his full certificate.
As you can see this is a great find. I learned that in addition to changing his last name, he also changed his given name. I also learned that he changed his name legally, through the court, which gives me another record to search for.
People make mistakes. I have typed information incorrectly into my family tree program and into bibliographies for class papers. In the course of proofreading and checking my information (was grandma really 11 when she gave birth? Especially when she didn't get married for another decade?), this items get found and corrected.
Town and city clerks are busy and, unfortunately, finding vital records for genealogists is not their most important task. As such, they may not have time to check over their typing. One example of this is my great-great grandfather Marco A. Casell's death certificate. The date of death is typed as November 26, 1932, at the age of 69 (born
1968, speaking of typos... 1868) and it has a filed date as November 27, 1937. The filing date being 5 years later would be one clue there was a problem, as is the fact that the age is wrong based on the dates given.
Luckily, the Town of Colden gives both a typed form and a copy of the original record. As we can see he did die in 1937, not 1932. Bonus points to those readers who also realized that this example proved point number 2, as well, in relation to items such as an AKA and a burial date.
As you can see from these examples, it is important to always see an original vital record in order to make sure the information is correct and complete.
Have you had experiences of this in your research? Please comment below.