What Can a Death Certificate Tell You?

Leone A. Genetti

Leon A. Genetti
1887-1962

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time. A few months ago I decided to research all death certificates related to my immediate family. Now this might not sound like a pleasant task, but from a genealogy perspective a death certificate can yield a wealth of information. Unfortunately, not all states have their records readily available through online data bases. However, the state of Pennsylvania has recently published their death certificates online for the years 1906 through 1963. Since most of my family settled, lived and died in Pennsylvania, it was easy to track down this information at Ancestry.com.

What can a Certificate of Death tell us? If the information is properly and correctly notated, you’ll find the following: name of parents, name of spouse, age and date of birth, birthplace, occupation, social security number, address, cause of death, and a number of other interesting facts about this person. The info provided can be extremely beneficial, filling in unknown gaps in your ancestor’s genealogical record. My reason for researching family death certificates was a bit more personal.

I wanted to check the Medical Certificate section of the death records along with the cause of death. Although I am reasonably still young and in good health, there have been a few health-related issues present on my most recent annual check-ups (high cholesterol and high glucose levels). I wanted to see if heredity was playing a role in elevating my health stats.

Leon Genetti

Pennsylvania Certificate of Death,
Leon Genetti – 1962
click to enlarge

It didn’t take long to track down the Certificates of Death for both of my fraternal grandparents (Leon Genetti and Angeline Marchetti) and three great-grandparents (Oliva Zambotti Genetti, Giovanni Battista Marchetti and Catterina Lucia Fellin Marchetti). As I suspected, heart-related issues and diabetes were listed as contributing factors of death on four out of five of their certificates. Our genetic make-up is a veritable vegetable soup of inherited DNA snippets! And my DNA was most likely hard-wired with an increased probability towards heart disease and Type II diabetes.

Although I wasn’t particularly happy to read this news, it confirmed that my genetic make-up needed to be taken into account when making personal health decisions such as altering my diet, exercise, etc.

Curious about health issues and the reason of death for your ancestors? Gaining this knowledge could be a great asset to your own health and well-being. If you’re a member of Ancestry.com, take advantage of their huge card catalog of searchable data bases. So far they include Death indexes for Pennsylvania, Texas, California, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, with more records being added daily. If you don’t have access to Ancestry.com, drop me an email with the name of the ancestor you are looking for, along with their date of death and place of death. If their Certificate of Death is available online, I’ll find it for you.

If the record is not posted online, an alternative method is to contact the county or state vital records office in the place where the death of your ancestor took place. They will provide you with a hard copy of their death certificate.

Need more info? Here’s a page by legal experts, NOLO, on “How to Get a Death Certificate“.

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