Why should I go to the town clerk?

+19 votes

Ancestry.com, Find-a-Grave and the Social Security Death Index are wonderful tools. We use them a great deal. But it's really important to understand their limitations so we don't over-rely on them.

A long-time genealogist shared the following story on a professional listserv. I obtained his permission to share it here:

Good morning APGer’s

I am doing a great deal of title searching for a client and have been trying to prove death for a person who died in 1974 in NEW YORK.  Of course being NEW YORK put heavy limitations on how much I could do for my client.

The first report to me from a local researcher in NY said the person died on a certain date in a particular county in NY.  Yes, the person was interred in a local cemetery in that county but the town/village clerk told me that this person did not die in the county.  Next,  this clerk did me a favor and pulled the burial permit for that cemetery and told me the name of the county where the actual death occurred.

The county of death was the next county adjacent to the north.  I called the village clerk and she was so kind as to tell me she is in possession of the death record.

I reported to my client (an attorney) the village clerk would honor her request for this death record.

As I quickly learned the information on Ancestry was totally out of sync to prove the place of death for the decedent.

The SSDI and the info from FindAGrave was not adequate to find the needed information on the surface;  it took some good old telephone calls and kind words to some clerks to provide me results.


Alvie L. Davidson CG

Lakeland, Florida


“Truth has no peer”

in The Tree House by Jillaine Smith G2G6 Pilot (760k points)
Great and illustrative story, Jillaine.  Thanks for sharing.

~ Keith
An even better reason to go to the clerk's office: Not everyone has a marker. No online sources listed my g-g-grandfather or his wife, and so recently I traveled to the midwest from the east coast to find them. I first visited the county clerk, who did have a record of death for my g-g-grandmother and the cemetery in which she'd been buried. The next day I spent time at the cemetery going through interment records with the manager there and found both relatives in unmarked graves on the property.

My g-g-g-grandfather and his wife were, on the other hand, exactly where FAG said they'd be (in the middle of a cornfield, it being the midwest!).

2 Answers

+5 votes
I use Find A Grave, Ancestry, FamilySearch, and the SSDI as tools.  They are good for helping a genealogist find leads to the documentation that is needed.  They should, however, not be used as FACT.  I've seen many who study their family histories cite one of the above sites as their only source.  As a genealogist I know the importance of having the actual documentation in front of me.  I hope the above letter will help many understand that what you find online is not always accurate.
by Laurie Wentz G2G2 (2.3k points)
+1 vote
Well said, great points Jillaine
by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.4m points)

Great points, Alvie L. Davidson. 


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