Stanczyk knows that genealogy is only as good as your sources. The less sourced your family tree, the less the quality of the research. Death is final! It is also well known that death documents are the least reliable as the informant is often incorrect or misinformed and that misinformation is transmitted to authorities. So newbie genealogists be forewarned.
Stanczyk has had a career (outside of being a jester) as a computer professional and more specifically, an expert in data (gathering, organizing, loading, managing and analyzing data). As a consultant, we have this little aphorism, “A man with a watch ALWAYS knows what time it is. And a man with two watches is never sure what time it is.” What does this mean? It means data/info is often in conflict and that one or both of those watches is inaccurate. One watch at least, but maybe both are wrong if they disagree with each other. Genealogy has this problem.
A few days ago, this jester was delighted to discover that Family Search provides a Photo Duplication Service for its databases that are index only — no images uploaded, just the transcribed index. What a boon that has been for me. I was finally able to locate a death certificate for a first-cousin-twice-removed (or my paternal grandfather’s first cousin if you prefer). I was thrilled, I now knew factually his father’s name and that the Polish Church record of his birth was for this individual in the USA that spelled his name like, ‘ELYASZ’. Polish/Slavic genealogists must deal with many factors in name corruption or name change. So I confirmed that this man in Detroit, was my grandfather’s cousin. I confirmed his death and his burial at Mt. Olivet in Detroit. I also confirmed that he was married and that his wife/widow was Lorraine Kraft Elyasz (the informant of the death certificate). But let me pause the story there.
A few years ago, when I visited Michigan, I went to the county seat of Macomb County, Michigan (Mt Clemens). So I made a research visit to the clerk of courts. My primary goal was to get death certificates for people in my life I had known, but lacked their death certificates: mother, grandmother, aunt were the primary goals — success. But I wanted my grand-uncle John (aka Jan) Eliasz who had the bad sense to die in 1936 instead of the modern post-World War II era. I did locate his death date and they had to mail me that death certificate because it was off-site due to its age. No online data for those death certificates (pre-1960). So here is what I received in the mail …
I knew the document was an extract. Just by the format of the death certificate. I was crest-fallen, extracted data is often error-prone and this was a death document the least reliable so that is a double-whammy! Later on, I found out that the age of my grand-uncle was wrong when I located his birth record from the church in Pacanow. So I knew that the age in years,months,days was just plain wrong. Obviously, the spelling of the name was incorrect (Elias [sic] vs. Eliasz/Elijasz) and the ‘recording date’ led me to believe that this extraction was from a death return (similar to a marriage return) which is again a further generation removed from a death certificate. Can you just imagine the error propagation rate?
So emboldened by my photo duplication success of Stanley Elyasz, I decided to order the photo duplication for John Elias too. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe they had the image of the actual death certificate. Do you know what I got back yesterday?
So, bless Family Search for producing a copy of the actual death certificate. Not much in conflict with the “extracted” form. But look at all of the extra info available: Informant name/address, cemetery where buried, years in occupation, last year worked 1930 (6 years out of work during the Great Depression), name of wife (Margaret ??? actually Pelagia), years lived in town of death (9 years => 1927 residence North Gratiot Ave, in Clinton Township), years in the USA (3o years => arrived 1906, I can only substantiate since 1910 which would be 26 years). Ok some of the extra information was also wrong, including birth date as I mentioned above.
So what did Stanley Elyasz’s death certificate look like …
Interestingly enough both of these two gentlemen, who were first cousins also lived together in Detroit in 1921 at the 6410 Van Dyke Ave, Detroit, Wayne, MI [same as Stanley’s death certificate address]. I assume John moved from that address when his cousin died in 1923.
While sources may conflict isn’t it better to have them than not? Also, do not assume that there is only one Death Certificate. See above for my two death certificates for my grand-uncle John Elias [sic]. While they were not in conflict with each other, the second one was the much preferred one to have; I am glad I did not stop at the first one – in genealogy there are death certificates and then there are death certificates – they may not agree. Finally, bless my grand-aunt Mary Eliasz Gronek, but boy was she an error propagator. On my grand-father’s death certificate, she was NOT the informant (my grandmother was). But apparently after the fact, my grand-aunt submitted an affidavit and changed my grandfather’s birthdate. Unfortunately, she changed it from the correct date to a terribly wrong date. For years I had to keep three dates for my grandfather’s birth until I finally located his birth record in Pacanow. Then you learn what is truth and who are the good sources (or bad sources) of family information.