Death Records

Death Records: Ten Documents Every Genealogist Should Own

Editor’s Note: William Dollarhide knows how to organize, manage and execute a genealogy project. His tricks, rules and witty tips provide valuable guidance to genealogy researchers at all levels. Following are his ten documents every genealogist should own and tips on where to find them:

Go Get the Death Records!

A death certificate is not enough, and it might not even be correct. If you know a person’s exact date and place of death, then you have several more sources pertaining to a person’s death. If you can obtain these other death records, you will certainly learn more about your ancestors.

Here are ten places to look for a death record. All ten sources should be obtained for every ancestor on your pedigree chart and every member of a family on your family group sheet.

1. Death Certificates. A rule in genealogy is to treat the brothers and sisters of your ancestors as equals. That means you need to obtain genealogical sources for all of them. For instance, for every ancestor on your pedigree chart, and for every brother or sister of an ancestor, you need to obtain a death certificate (assuming they are dead). If there were six siblings in an ancestor’s family, a death certificate for each sibling will give six different sources about the same parents, places where the family lived, names of spouses, names of cemeteries, names of funeral directors, and other facts about a family. If a death certificate for your ancestor fails to provide the name of the deceased’s mother, for example, a sibling’s death certificate might give the full maiden name. How do you get a death certificate? Go to the site, where detailed information about accessing death records can be found. It is a free-access website, and all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories or possessions are represented. Always start with a death certificate because the names, dates, and places you will find on a death certificate will lead you to further records.

2. Funeral Records. A death certificate may mention the name and location of a funeral director. Find a current funeral home in North America at This site has the listings from a directory of funeral homes called “The Yellow Book.” A funeral record may include names of survivors, names of the persons responsible for the funeral expenses, and, often, obscure biographical information about the deceased not available anywhere else. Modern funeral records are full of genealogical information about the deceased and may include copies of newspaper obituaries, death certificates, printed eulogies, funeral programs, and other details about the person. A reference to a burial permit, cremation, or cemetery can be found here as well. Generally, funeral directors are very easy to talk to and very cooperative. Even if the old name of a funeral home is not listed in a current directory, it should be possible to locate the current funeral home holding the records of an earlier one. Funeral homes rarely go out of business but, more often, are taken over by another funeral director. If at one time a town had two or three funeral homes, but only one today, the “Yellow Book” listing is still the source for finding the current funeral home in that town because it can lead you to information about the older funeral home. Funeral directors are also experts on the location of cemeteries in their area.

3. Cemetery Records. If the name of a cemetery is mentioned on the death certificate or funeral record, that cemetery is now a source of information about the person who died. There may be a record in the sexton’s office of the cemetery, or off-site at a caretaker’s home; and the gravestone inscription may be revealing as well. When you contact a funeral home, ask about the cemetery where the person was buried and whether the funeral home has an address or phone number for the cemetery office, or at least know who might be the keeper of records for the cemetery. At the same time, ask the funeral director for the names of monument sellers/stone masons who cater to cemeteries in the area. As a back-up, a local stone mason may have a record of a monument inscription for the deceased’s gravestone. To locate a cemetery anywhere in the U.S., a special list can be obtained from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) within their Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). The GNIS contains the names of over two million place names (map features) in America, of which about 107,000 are cemeteries. Visit the GNIS website and click on “Domestic Names” to search for any named cemetery. Continue reading…

historic german newspapers online

Historic German Newspapers Online

When researching your German heritage, utilizing historic german newspapers is just as useful as using an English language counterpart. There can be additional challenges should your research need to be conducted with some German language familiarity (though there are resources to make that easier too! See our post But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy for more information), so we like any tools that will make research easier. Author Ernest Thode’s new guide, Historic German Newspapers Online can serve as an invaluable key to a mother lode of information found in German-language papers. As the author explains below:

“Few historic German newspapers have been digitized until the past few years, though most current German newspapers have published electronic editions for more than a decade. As I began collecting information, [on papers with a history of at least 50 years] I was astounded to learn how many German papers are digitally online. They are truly worldwide, from Tanunda, Australia; Morogoro, Tanzania; Zhelezhnodororozhny, Russia; Tsientsin, China; and El Reno, Oklahoma, USA. Mostly they are accessible, put online by national libraries, universities, and museums, even international consortia such as Europeana. Some sites have more than 100 titles, such as Compact Memory and ANNO (hosted by the Austrian National Library), with titles from the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. I have found 2,000 digitized titles online at numerous public, private, and commercial sites . . . .”

What sorts of genealogical information can you find in these newspapers? To quote the author, “You can sometimes find baptisms and weddings from churches, especially in capital city papers; births, marriages, and deaths from civil registrations; intentions to emigrate, especially in governmental papers; auctions; wanted criminals, police gazettes; general advertisements; trade news in trade journals; lists of church donors; lists of compensation paid to fire and storm victims, in governmental papers; lists of spa visitors (in papers in spa cities); lists of appointments to office, promotions, transfers, retirements, and deaths; estate sales; lists of hotel guests; lists of pupils (and their parents) in annual school reports; and a multitude of everyday notices. There are also unexpected finds pertaining to the USA, such as a list of Waldeck soldiers in North America found in a Waldeck government paper; the engagement in Newark, New Jersey, of a couple from Kesmark, Slovakia; and a description of emigrants headed for Cincinnati in an emigration paper. These are gems you cannot afford to miss. You need to look for the regional paper for your ancestor’s German county seat, the government paper (Bavaria, Baden, Hessen, a Prussian province, etc.), and the daily paper of the closest large city for your ancestor.”

Ernest Thode’s Historic German Newspapers Online indicates newspaper title, place of publication, date range, and website; you’ll be amazed at the range of information available to you online in German-language newspapers. Even better, these newspapers not only contain clues relating to the whereabouts of your forebears but also provide context for the life and times of your ancestors.

Image Credit: By German newspaper, 1834. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The cartoon reads: “Is it the wagon that is too big or the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe that is too small? German cartoon from 1834 pocking fun at the number of micro states and customs barriers before the adoption of a German custom union (Zoolverein).”

Old newspapers, Newspaper genealogy,

Newspaper Research Contest

We here at believe in and have written about the awesome information trove stored in old newspapers, both in the US and abroad. In conjunction with their upcoming Newspaper Research Strategies Boot Camp January 30th and 31st (click here for more information and to register) Hack Genealogy is holding their first contest of 2015. Their Newspaper Research Contest has genealogy and family history related prizes are valued at over $600. The following is from the original Hack Genealogy post, but the prizes are so great we want to share this info with our readers too!

The prizes in the Newspaper Research Contest are amazing thanks to the generous support of the prize donors. Take a look at this list!

  • Find My Past: A 12-month World Subscription (value $199 USD)
  • Inside History Magazine: A 12-month digital subscription to Inside History magazine for iPad or Android (value $32 USD)
  • MyHeritage: A 1 year subscription to MyHeritage Premium Plus and Data Plan package (value $249 USD)

The entire prize package is valued at over $650 USD. We’ll select seven (7) individual winners for different prizes, each of which are valued between $10 USD and $250 USD. You could win one or more of these prizes! We’ll draw separate winners for each prize on Tuesday 3 February 2015 and announce the winners here on the contest page and via social media.

This contest is NOT limited to just those in the United States either! All of the prizes are digital items or memberships and can easily be sent to the winners via email!

Enter the Newspaper Research Contest Today!

Remember to click here to enter and once you’ve entered, make sure you tell your friends . . . you earn extra entry tickets for each person you refer. And share the contest on Facebook and Twitter to earn even more entries!

Good luck! Please let us know if you enter and win!

Image Credit: By Boston Gazette [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Genealogy

Northern Ireland Genealogy Part III – Resources for Research

Editor’s Note: The following post is Part III of our discussion on Northern Ireland genealogy research. Below are resources to help you with your research, including those that assist with genealogical research in Ireland more broadly. Please visit Part I and Part II for additional information. 

Resources for Northern Ireland Genealogy

The following two resources will add to your understanding of Irish records and enhance your research into Northern Ireland families.

  • Brian Mitchell’s The Surnames of North West Ireland provides “concise histories of the major surnames of Gaelic and planter origin.” North West Ireland encompasses the counties of Derry, Donegal and Tyrone. This region is of great importance in tracing Irish ancestral origins as not only was it the last Gaelic stronghold, but it was also the location to which many settlers from England and Scotland came during the “planting” of Ulster in the seventeenth century. A significant number of these settlers later emigrated to the United States and Canada, as well as to Australia. Mitchell’s work includes 324 single-page histories of surnames (including variant spellings) that were either native to North West Ireland or became prominent there as settlers arrived. In content, it is similar to Black’s Surnames of Scotland, and researchers into Scottish families will find many familiar names throughout the book. For example, Graham is a name quite prominent in Scottish history. The Surnames of North West Ireland notes that it is “among the twenty most numerous names in Ulster, and in Counties Down and Fermanagh, it is among the ten most common names.” The Graham entry continues with information about its ultimate derivation from Grantham in Linconlnshire, and various and important personages and historical events associated with the surname. Another entry, for the surname Hamill, notes that this name is most common in Ulster, particularly in Counties Antrim and Armagh, and traces its lineage back to Eogan, son of the fifth century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages. If you are unsure where your ancestor came from in Ireland, this book may prove useful in highlighting counties in which the surname is most prominent, thus providing some direction for a preliminary search.
  • Defenders of the Plantation of Ulster, 1641-1691, also by Brian Mitchell, helps mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Ulster. (The Province of Ulster includes the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone in Northern Ireland, and the counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland.) This book includes the names of about 2,500 planters who participated in the defense and security of the Plantation of Ulster during the 1641 rebellion and the William of Orange/James II war of 1688-1691. It includes the“Muster Roll of the Garrison of Londonderry during the Rebellion of 1642-1643” and “Defenders of Ireland during the Williamite War of 1689-1691.”

The first list identifies 905 men in nine companies of foot who defended the walls of Derry. These combatants, who were drawn from the estates throughout County Londonderry and its neighboring counties, provides surname, given name, rank, and foot company. For example, James Nixon, soldier, served in Sir Thomas Staples’ Foot Company; John More was a drummer in John Kilner’s Foot Company. Such information offers an opportunity to continue research in military records when extant.

The second list provides the names of Ulstermen who defended Londonderry against the Jacobite opposition to William of Orange. The list identifies major planter families in the province of Ulster and identifies their connection to the original planters from England, Wales, and Scotland. The roster also denotes an ID number taken from William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry – Their Deeds and Descendants, 1688-1691 (a major source  for Mitchell’s work), surname, first name, residence and remarks. These remarks may contain information about planter origins in England, Wales or Scotland, as well as references to next-of-kin, military campaigns, and emigration. For example, John Blackwood of Bangor, County Down, was the son of John Blackwood; married Ursula, daughter of Robert Hamilton of Killyleagh Castle; and his descendants were the Viscounts of Clandeboye and the Earls and Marquesses of Dufferin and Ava. Rev. Thomas Boyd was the Presbyterian minister of Aghadowey. George Buchanan of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, was the first of the family in Ireland, settling at Omagh in 1674. He descended from the Buchanans of Carbeth, Scotland. Researchers who use  the Young ID numbers provided for each entry may find more in Fighters of Derry.

Recommended titles for Irish research

Genealogy at a Glance: Irish Genealogy Research by Brian Mitchell (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2010)

Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research by Margaret Dickson Falley, 2 vols. (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998).

Irish Gravestone Inscriptions: A Guide to Sources in Ulster, edited by William O’Kane & Eoin Kerr (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008).

Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History by James G. Ryan (Ancestry, 1988).

Land Owners in Ireland 1876 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998).

Macmillan Atlas of Irish History by Seán Duffy (Macmillan, 1997)

A Short History of Ulster by Sean McMahon (Mercier Press, 2000).

The Surnames of Derry by Brian Mitchell (Genealogy Centre, Derry, 1992).

Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, by John Grenham, 4th ed. (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2012).

Image Credit: Crowded Main Street, Strabane, Created by Herbert. F. Cooper (Photographer), Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, Flickr.

Northern Ireland Genealogy

A Look at Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part II

Editor’s Note: The following is a continuation of our earlier discussion on research related to Northern Ireland genealogy, an adaptation of a post by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. Please read A Look at Northern Ireland Genealogy – Part I to read a brief history of Northern Ireland. Part III will contain resources to help you as you reconstruct your ancestry of Northern Ireland.

Ireland – A brief look at civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions

Records are usually created in response to a particular historical, political, religious, or socioeconomic event or trend. In considering Irish records, it is important to understand the several types of boundaries within which individuals lived in order to locate appropriate records. As much of our research of Northern Ireland genealogy probably falls into the pre-1921 era, the following information applies to all counties.

First, there are civil jurisdictions. Beginning with the smallest civil division, an individual fell within the jurisdiction of a townland, a rather amorphous entity varying in size from ten to several thousand acres. Creating confusion is the fact that townlands do not contain towns and might not even contain any inhabitants, but are part of the address of many individuals, particularly those in rural areas. There are approximately 64,000 townlands. They are normally organized into civil parishes, which can contain as many as twenty-five to thirty townlands as well as actual towns and villages. There are approximately 2,500 civil parishes.

The next type of jurisdiction, baronies, are groups of civil parishes. However, just to complicate things again, barony boundaries may not always conform to the boundaries of the civil parishes they contain. There are 273 baronies.

The Irish county is the most constant type of organization.  There are thirty-two counties and they are, in turn, organized into provinces (Connaught, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster). Should the progression of townland, civil parish, barony, county, province not be enough for you to master, there are also cities, towns, boroughs, poor law unions (established in 1838 and named after a local large town), and general registrar districts (areas within which birth, marriage, and death records are collected, but which do not match county boundaries). This can be quite confusing. Hang in there!

A source that will significantly help you in sorting out these civil divisions is the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland. If, for example, you look up the townland known as Drumbeecross, you will find that it is situated in County Armagh, the Barony of Fews Lower, the Parish of Mullaghbrack, and the Poor Law Union (in 1857) of Armagh. The Index also provides a citation to the townland census of 1851 and the number of the sheet on which Drumbeecross appears in the Ordnance Survey Maps.

To further compound the records complexity, there are ecclesiastical divisions, including church parishes, presided over by a priest or minister. Church of Ireland (Protestant) parishes usually encompass the same area as the civil parish, but Catholic parishes do not. Parishes are grouped into dioceses, presided over by a bishop. These dioceses again do not conform to county boundaries, nor do Church of Ireland parishes encompass the same localities as Catholic parishes.

Finally, there are General Registrar’s Districts, usually named for a large town falling within their boundaries, which are responsible for the civil registration of birth, marriage and death records that are not maintained on a county basis. More complications: Centralized registration for the Church of Ireland began in 1845, but universal civil registration did not occur until 1864.

Maps of ecclesiastical divisions can be found in the second edition of Brian Mitchell’s New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Information useful in determining extant parish registers is available in Mitchell’s A Guide to Irish Parish Registers. If, for example, you look up the civil parish of Mullaghbrack in County Armagh, you will find that its Church of Ireland parish of the same name was established in 1787, that its Roman Catholic parishes are Ballymore and Mullaghbrack, and that its Presbyterian parishes included Markethill, Drumminis, and Redrock, with some mergers throughout the years. In addition, there was a Methodist Parish of Markethill, established in 1830.

A brief look at uniquely Irish records

Space does not allow an in-depth discussion of Irish record types. A few, however, are important enough to Northern Ireland genealogy research to warrant at least brief mention:

  • Tithe Applotment Survey. The Church of Ireland became the established church in 1867. Tithes were levied to provide for the maintenance of the Church. Valuations, conducted between 1823 and 1837, determined the tithe payable by each landowner. This list is not comprehensive as only certain types of land were taxable and urban residents were not included. Tithe Applotment Survey information for the six counties of modern-day Northern Ireland is available on a CD entitled Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1838.
  • Griffith’s Valuation Survey. All lands in Ireland were surveyed between 1848 and 1864 in order to establish the levy rate for local taxes payable by each land or leaseholder. This survey lists each landholder or householder and provides the name of the townland, a description of the property, the name of the landlord, and the annual valuation. An index of the names in the Title Applotment and Griffith’s Valuation Surveys is available on microfilm from the National Library of Ireland as well as on CD (An Index to Griffith’s Valuation 1848-1864) from Genealogical Publishing Company. Another helpful source is James R. Reilly’s Richard Griffith and His Valuations of Ireland.
  • Spinning Wheel Premium Bounty List. This list, sometimes referred to as the Flax Growers List, was published in 1796 by the Irish Linen Board and includes the names of almost 60,000 individuals who received awards for planting a specified acreage of flax. The information includes the name of the grower, the civil parish and county where the flax was grown.
  • Rate Books. The Poor Law Relief Act was enacted in 1838. Under this welfare law, landholders were required to contribute to programs to help the poor in their area. As if there were not already enough jurisdictions, new divisions called Poor Law Unions were established in order to collect and distribute the contributions, known as rates. The Rate Books list payers by area, holding and valuation.

Image Credit: Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland. Image belongs to and accessed from