For the first time in my research, I have found two death certificates for the same person. They were filled out by two different people.
As if missing and inaccurate records aren’t enough to make me crazy, now this.
While perusing the Tennessee Death Database, I found this death certificate for Miss Mary Ella Copeland:
Mary’s parents migrated from Alabama to Tennessee.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to find any document that states where in Alabama they came from. (Update: Later, I found the Alabama county).
Death certificates can be a tricky source.
But what struck me is that the informant on Mary Ella’s death certificate recorded Tuscumbia, Alabama as the birthplace for her parents.
I thought, I have this death certificate already. Why didn’t I ever notice the town?
Well, here’s why. The copy I had in my records only recorded North Alabama for Mary’s parents:
Both death certificates are indeed the same woman. She was my great grandmother’s sister Mary Ella Fendricks, who married Abe Copeland.
Both certificates list the same death date, 9 February 1930. However, one was completed by her husband, and one was completed by someone named James Casey.
James Casey associated with the family, but I’m unsure of his exact relation. Cluster research principles mean I need to figure out his connection. One death certificate lists the “Gant graveyard” as Mary’s burial place. The other lists the “Savannah Colored Cemetery.”
These documents both illustrate the weaknesses inherent in so many records: the information is only as good as who gave it. The death certificates report different ages for Mary Ella.
Her husband says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Sharard. James Casey says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Suggs.
Mary Ella’s mother’s name (according to marriage license and census records) was Jane Eliza Sherrod.
However, several sources consistently state her name as Kate. I’m starting to believe that Jane Eliza was actually called Kate or Katie.
Even my grandmother remembered that name. Kate/Katie died at a relatively young age and no record suggests another marriage for Mike Fendricks.
I wonder what circumstance would cause someone to have multiple death certificates? The date of the later certificate was almost a year and a half later.
Have any of you seen this? Sometimes I think the ancestors just like to MESS with us!
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
Hello All sometimes mistakes are made on a original death certificate that was filed and the state or county they died in issue another one , had it happen to me when my husband died, he has two death certificates to and his death was in CA.
I found your site by googling “two death certificates.” I have a person of interest in our family who has two – one in oregon and one in washington. He lived very close to the border on the WA side and I can’t seem to figure out how this happened. I don’t actually have the certificates yet, I think I will have some trouble getting them from both states due to privacy laws.
I have come across two death certificates during my research for my great grandfather’s older brother Prophet Read. One has his name spelled Read the other is spelled Reed. The reason for the duplicate death certificate in his case was my great great grandfather Samson Read’s last name was entered as Gregory which was the last name of the Undertaker.
Finding the two death certificates was a blessing for me, because on the first certificate the place of birth for Samson was illegible. On the second certificate it showed that he was from Georgetown, South Carolina which put one of my suspicions to rest. I always had a feeling he was not originally from Edisto Island.
Yes, I have seen two death certificates for the same person. He had the same informant but one certificate gave a more detailed cause of death and the name of his wife. One gave his full name John Wesley Locks, and the other was Wesley Locks. I don’t understand why he had two death certificates. This was in Mississippi
This has happened to me in my research. I even blogged about it last week. “My great uncle Howell Brasfield has two death certificates. After looking at them again, I’m not sure they are for the same person. It’s just hard to believe that there were two black men named Howell Brasfield born in Tennessee and died within miles and a month of each other in the same year. But then the certificates has different birth dates, marital status and dates (and location) of death. They had different burial dates but was both buried in the small city of Maury City, Tennesee. (The cause of death was similar too.)
While I was there (Tennessee) last year, I mentioned it to the archivists on staff. One was amazed at the possibility of two death certificates for one man, while another said it happened all the time.”
I plan on going back to Tennessee this year and look at the original not just the copy on line. Taking a tip from Taneya Koonce, I’m going to look on the back of the certificate in hopes in might shed some light. And yes, it does make me wonder and imagine all sorts of reasons for the two certificates.
Thanks to all that responded to the post about two death certificates. Its one of those “flukes” that sometimes we benefit from!
There’s a reason why one believe Kate’s maiden name was Sherard and another said Suggs. I had a similar situation. Not with two certificates for the same person, but I found certificates with varying maiden names. Actually, the two names ended up being a major clue to tracing the previous enslaver. I don’t know if you’ve read my article about that, but see
You know I have read ALL your stuff! I should go and add to this post: the mother’s maiden name was actually Sherrill–close enough to Sherard. But also, the father was related to Suggs people and when he is older can be found living with the Suggs family. I suspect that’s the reason the Suggs name was remembered.