Monday, March 30, 2020
Genealogical Research: Searching for Certificates
Legal certificates have been used by governments to validate important events since antiquity. Whether official or unofficial, certificates are one of the documents that beginning genealogists think of when asked if they have any family records. However, even advanced researchers can benefit from finding a certificate. Unfortunately, some types of certificates that are common today are very recent innovations. For example, the Utah Death Certificate shown above is dated 1917. When did Utah begin keeping death records and when were the earliest death certificates issued? The answers to these questions will ultimately determine whether or not such a document even exists. In Utah, death records were kept starting in 1848 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Such records were kept in Logan in 1863 and in Ogden in 1890 but statewide death registration only began in 1905. In other states, statewide death records did not begin until well into the 1900s. These timeframes can also apply to birth and marriage records.
Currently finding certificates of vital records is relatively easily done online but obtaining a copy may be limited by local laws and regulations. If the certificate was created more recently, it is probable that there is a cost involved in obtaining a copy.
Certificates are not limited simply to vital records. Many other private and public organizations and government agencies award or provide certificates. Some of these are also periodic. Although it may seem that the information is limited, the importance of certificates extends to identifying a particular organization with which the individual was affiliated and also identifying a specific geographic location where the person resided. This information is invaluable in identifying the individual. Here is an example of a school certificate.
The important information on this certificate includes the place of its origin, the name of the school, the date the certificate was awarded, and the names of the people signing the document. In this case, the principal of the school happens to be Harold Morgan's stepfather. This certificate also happens to be about 14 x 18 inches in size.
Here is an example of a certificate that does not have the word certificate on it.
The amount of information on this certificate goes well beyond just the name, date, and place usually associated with a certificate. The idea of a certificate is that the document itself can be used to establish some fact about the person involved. Here, for example, the certificate is "proof" of an honorable discharge from the United States Army. This fact would be important in applying for any available veteran's benefits.
If you spend some time thinking about the implications of any certificates you can find you can probably think of a number of other types of records that might be available about the person named.
The question arises almost automatically, where do you go to find certificates? My examples come from records and documents that were "handed down" to me from my family. This is an obvious source but you may find mention of an award or presentation in a newspaper account or a reference in a letter. It is also possible that you can find the documents online in some collections. For example, in the United States, Draft Registration certificates are commonly digitized and available online.
When a person dies, it is common for most of their "personal effects" to be disposed of in one way or another. Genealogists should be painfully aware that this loss of information about the person is invaluable and that an effort should be made to preserve as much of the historical information as is possible especially the certificates and awards.