Can a death certificate also be a source for date of birth?

+7 votes
I am just wondering if a death certificate be used as a proof of date of birth since it provides that as well?
in Policy and Style by Lisa Wilson G2G1 (1.5k points)
It is a source. According to the Genealogical Proof Standard, no single source like this serves as proof. You correlate it with other information to prove conclusions. The data must be analyzed for reliability as part of this process.

The informant of a record determines whether it is primary or secondary information, and all other things being equal, primary information is assumed to be more reliable. Secondary means it came from someone without first-hand knowledge of the event. A death certificate for a baby often has a parent as the informant for the birth and death information. But if the deceased is 100 years old, it is almost certain the informant wasn’t present at the birth and so only knows the information from another source. If you don’t know this source, then the birth information should be considered less reliable. If the deceased is somewhere in between, say a 20 year old, then it’s hard to say. Reliability depends on who the informant was, and often we just don’t know if they were around for the birth.
Barry, don't most death certificates list the informant?
In my experience, many U.S. death certificates do give the informant, but often it's just a name with no obvious way to determine the relationship between the informant and the deceased.
If it's related to a family you've been studying, you are more likely to recognize the name.  Occasionally I've found the clue I needed to discover a daughter's marriage, i.e. I recognized the first name of the informant as a child of the deceased, etc.

3 Answers

+11 votes
Best answer
Yes, of course, although it may only be as accurate as the informant's memory.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (336k points)
selected by Susan Smith
+15 votes
Yes - though it may not always be accurate. Using this date as a guide, see if you can find another source like a baptism record or census which confirms if it is likely to be accurate.
by Fiona McMichael G2G6 Pilot (158k points)
+4 votes
It depends upon the era and jurisdiction.

For example modern death certificates in the UK are linked to birth dates not only  through  the say so of an informant, who is asked to provide marriage and birth certs. The process also  links  National Health records, tax records and National Insurance records .The birthdate is likely to be accurate.

In earlier times it was different. I have a 19th C death cert. where the informant was the master of the workhouse. A while latter the deceased man's daughter  and son in law managed to get the age and other details in the cert. amended. (All changes described on the certificate).They had to go to a lot of trouble and some expense (swearing before a commissioner for oaths). How many would bother to change details? More importantly, how do I know that they were right? How do we know any imformant was correct? We can only verify it by matching the details with other sources; birth cert for exact date, baptism and censuses for approximate dates.
by Helen Ford G2G6 Pilot (314k points)
Helen, it does seem to be a particular problem when a person without close relatives dies in an institution, whether that is a nursing home, psychiatric hospital, Old Soldiers' Home (in the U.S.), etc.  I imagine that today, better records are set up when the person is admitted, but that doesn't appear to have been the case in the past.
Things still rely on the accuracy and honesty of the informant.  There are details on my husband's record that are out-and-out lies by the persons giving the information.

Even the time of his death is incorrect (it's when the signing-off doctor actually went to his room - quite some time later, not when he actually died).
My grand mother died one year but it was recorded the next. It was New Year's Eve and we were home before midnight but the certifying doctor had to be summoned by the care home and arrived after midnight.

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