It’s far too tempting to see a cemetery marker for an ancestor and assume she died in that place. And then spend hours trying to find the death record there. But it’s important to consider that she might have died hundreds or thousands of miles away. Even a long-time genealogist can forget this when she really really really wants to find that death record. (Now who could I be talking about....Mary??!!!)
I recently researched the Smith family of Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan. Smith is rarely a fun name to research and this one was no exception. I found a death record on Seeking Michigan for Robert Smith, age 66 who died in Vernon and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. FindAGrave shows a memorial for him. Though no spouse is linked to him, the photo of the memorial for Elizabeth Smith who died 13 June 1907 at age 71 is clearly another side of the same grave marker.
And that’s where the cautionary tale starts. I spent ages looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Shiawasse and later all of Michigan on the SeekingMichigan website. I searched for everyone named Elizabeth who died in June 1907. I searched for every person who died on 13 June 1907. I searched for all the Smiths in Shiawassee. I could not rustle up a death certificate for her. But she’s buried right there! Next to her husband!! Where, oh where, is her darn death certificate?!!!
I finally had to put Elizabeth on the back burner. Searching on Ancestry and FamilySearch I found a San Francisco area funeral home record for Robert Smith, Jr., Elizabeth and Robert’s son, which included a newspaper clipping of his death notice. Lucky for me, Robert Jr.’s sisters and daughters married people with far more imaginative surnames, including Dorward and Coppelberger. Names a genealogist can truly love.... Newspaper searches soon turned up a Flint, Michigan article indicating Elizabeth died in Los Angeles.
And then I dove down another rat hole looking for Elizabeth’s death certificate in Los Angeles. Another cautionary tale - don’t believe everything you read in a newspaper. Eventually I searched the California Death Index on FamilySearch to discover that Elizabeth died not in Los Angeles but in Alameda County. I guess to the reporter in Flint in 1910, one city in California is as good as the next!
So remember, just because someone is buried somewhere, it doesn’t mean they died anywhere near there. Be willing to search far and wide for a death certificate.
Thank you to my friend, Karrie, who lets me research her ancestors like they're my own...
 Michigan Certificate and Record of Death for Robert Smith, Sr. County of Shiawassee, Certificate No. 238. Date of Death 29 Aug 1897
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39077645 for Robert Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=smith&GSfn=robert&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=24&GScnty=1304&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=39077645&df=all& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 Find A Grave Memorial# 39074584 for Elizabeth Smith in Greenwood Cemetery, Vernon, Shiawassee, Michigan (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Smith&GSiman=1&GSsr=41&GScid=638&GRid=39074584& : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1835-1979," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JNVX-C8M : 28 November 2014), Robert Smith, 15 Nov 1916; citing funeral home J.S. Godeau, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, record book Vol. 20, p. 1-404, 1916-1917, San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History and Archive Center.
 “Death of Mother,” The Flint Daily Journal, 18 June 1907, page 8, col 3 (GenealogyBank.com : accessed 25 April 2017)
 "California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKSM-DGFS : 5 June 2015), Elizabet Smith, 13 Jun 1907; citing 13872, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
5/5/2017 09:50:47 pm
Thanks Jana. I appreciate your reading my blog and sharing it with others.
5/6/2017 04:57:36 am
Mary, I couldn't agree with you more. Nearly 20 years ago, I got bit by the genealogy bug when I couldn't find where my paternal grandfather died. I had visited his grave but his death place was elusive. Eventually, I got a tip from a kind government official who suggested where I should look--and finally learned the full story. So not only should we cast our net wider, we should never give up!
Richard L Rieck
7/9/2021 12:04:52 pm
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Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.