Death may not sound like an intriguing topic to everyone, but Michigan archivists said death certificates are filled with clues about not only family history, but also family health.
Periodically, archivists in the state post death certificates online for public access.
The Archives of Michigan has recently made certificates from the 1920s through the 1930s available to the public.
Frank Boles, Director of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University, said these certificates have a practical use for people living today.
“Very often we don’t know why our grandparents or our great-grandparents died and being able to tell your physician that they died of a heart attack, or of cancer or or diabetes can be extremely important for them to have a good family history to help your health,” Boles said.
He said, legally, libraries and archive organizations have to wait 75 years from the date of death to post information online.
Boles said this rule is fairly arbitrary, but aims to balance the public’s right to know, with the deceased person’s right to privacy.
Mark Harvey is a state archivist with the Archives of Michigan. He said the certificates give a glimpse of what life and death was like at the time.
“Because you can sort and search in many different ways, you could- for instance- look at a time period like 1918 when there was the flu epidemic and zero in on a particular community and see how many of these death records listed influenza as cause of death,” Harvey said.
Harvey said the certificate images show occupation, cause and age of death.
He said the site is particularly appealing to pop culture fans and genealogists researching an individual family tree. He said Harry Houdini and the assumed creator of Vernor’s Ginger Ale (James Vernor) are highlighted in the collection.
Harvey said the site also features images from all over the state in addition to death certificates.
Harvey said the next group of certificates, from 1940s, is expected to be available January of next year.
ON THE WEB
Seeking Michigan Death Certificates http://seekingmichigan.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/collection/p129401coll7