When Even Vital Records Can’t Be Trusted

Dear Reader: Do you think you are related to the individuals listed in this post? Please drop me a note! I love hearing from cousins and others researching my family!

I was just notified by Ancestry.com that they found the death certificate for my 2nd great-grandfather Daniel B. Crow. I love finding vital records for any of my ancestors, but this one immediately raised some questions.

First of all, the  certificate lists his mother’s maiden name as Mary Crow. I am 95 percent sure that his mother’s actual name was Elizabeth Hart (based on census and marriage records). So where did Mary Crow come from? Well, Daniel was married to a Mary (nee Gourley). He also had a sister named Mary Crow. If his father Isaac Crow indeed married a woman named Mary, I certainly hope it wasn’t a relation of too close proximity.

Since the deceased couldn’t possibly provide the information above, it was provided by a relative–in this case, someone by the name H. T. Crow. I believe this to be Daniel’s son, Hugh Taylor Crow. Is it possible he didn’t know or remember his grandmother’s name? I suppose. Is it possibly an entry error by whoever filled out the form? I find this more believable, especially given the other discrepancy I detail below.

The next fact that gives me pause is the burial date of 8 April 1921, which predates the death date of 27 April 1921 (which appears to be corrected on the certificate).

Death date as listed on Daniel B. Crow’s death certificate (Ancestry.com).

Burial information on Daniel B. Crow’s death certificate (Ancestry.com)

Another problem has arisen in trying to locate the cemetery listed here. There are two cemeteries, in Cannon County, Tenn., with the word Milligan in their names. Neither is in Johnson City, which isn’t in Cannon County. The closest match I found on FindaGrave in Carter County is a cemetery called Millington County Cemetery, but it only has one interment listed and I think that its information is in error too.

So, boys and girls, what have we learned here? Even with vital records, each bit of information must be considered carefully and discrepancies investigated. In this case, I need to find further evidence to support the information provided, especially regarding Daniel’s death and burial dates. Finding his grave might clear it up. An obituary may help as well. The undertaker’s name is given. I might be able to track down which funeral home he worked for and investigate any available records of theirs as well.

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8 thoughts on “When Even Vital Records Can’t Be Trusted

  1. Hi Missy, thanks for sharing the death certificate and your observations. My suggestions would be to cross check the date of death with a death index with the State/County if they have one because it looks like someone scribbled out something in addition to the date of burial being before the date of death.

    It was my understanding that the address of Johnson City, Tenn was for the Undertaker, not necessarily for the cemetery. Which may be a moot point if it’s the standard that undertakers don’t take care of burials of bodies in cemeteries outside of their “jurisdictions,” ie, their cities, towns, counties or states. But I don’t think that is always the case. I think it is possibility that some undertakers prepare the body and then someone else comes and picks it up or it is shipped to another city, town, county, or State.

    Also Johnson City, TN is what’s called one of the Tri-Cities which means it’s on the border of VA, TN and NC, so I would look for Milligan’s Cemetery in any one of those States. For NC and VA, check out Allen Dew’s Cemetery Census (http://www.cemeterycensus.com/) in addition to FindAGrave. He will give you information on cemeteries which might have changed names over the years.

    I hope this helps.

  2. I have so encountered this problem. Some really didn’t share about their family, some had a grudge and closed their family off, some were hiding, Some like a son didn’t listen, and then when the time came had to improvise so he didn’t look bad or switched mom and dad’s families in his mind. (rolling eyes here, don’t they know we needed accurate information) Great post. Thanks!

  3. Don Bennett says:

    Missy,
    Understand that primary sources are sources which are recorded at the time of an event. These are the most accurate of sources. Secondary sources can be good also, but errors are more common. A death certificate is a primary source for details about a death, but is a secondary source for information about a birth, parents or marriage. Because a death can occur so many years after the birth, the informant probably was not born then, and does not have firsthand knowledge. He is only passing along what he remembers hearing from others.The death certificate of Daniel Crow is definitely NOT a primary source for the marriage of Isaac Crow. So, go with what the marriage bond says. There is no evidence that Isaac Crow married a second time.

    As for the cemetery, I believe it goes by a different name these days. I cannot find my record right now so I am just going from memory. I think it is called Williams Cemetery today. Just look for cemeteries in Milligan College and you will find it.

    There are two option for the date of death: Daniel died on the 7th and was buried the 8th or he died on the 27th and was buried the 28th.

    • baysideresearch says:

      Hi Don. I do understand the difference between primary and secondary sources and decided not to get into those distinctions in this post because, sadly, this certificate can’t even stand as a good primary source for the death information, as it obviously has errors. Thanks for your comments though as I’m sure they’ll be helpful for those new to genealogy and proper sources!

  4. Enjoyed this post very much and the comments. Thank you for the chance to learn!

  5. I have run into similar issues when researching. Thanks for your insight

  6. Greta Koehl says:

    Good advice on being skeptical of names listed for parents on these things – I have encountered many instances where a different relative was listed for one of the parents (a wife for a mother, an older brother for a father, and a husband’s oldest son by a previous wife for the husband of the deceased). In the latter two cases, the deceased were definitely not on good terms with the people listed (which may have been why the names stuck in the informants’ minds…).

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