Coroner’s Inquests

Henry Goldenstein’s 1921 death in Kansas City, Missouri, was actually investigated by a coroner in Adams County, Illinois.

If your relative died under suspicious circumstances, there may have been an inquest into their death. These records, in the United States, typically start in the late 19th century, but there are exceptions. Generally they are local (city or county) records and they may or may not be available online. Testimony of witnesses and doctors may be included. That testimony may give additional insight not only into the death, but also the life, of your relative.


My relative’s 1806 birth in Vermont was recorded twice in two different towns three years apart.

One of Clark Sargent’s two birth records in Vermont.

The date of birth was the same on both records–it was just recorded in two different Vermont locations. I should not just look at his birth record. I should also look at the records of his siblings. It turned out several of them were recorded twice in the same locations where his records were recorded.

If we look at just one record, we may miss clues or we may get a skewed perspective. It’s advised to look at all records in context. It is particularly important to do this with with any record with which we are not familiar or one that looks unusual. Sometimes when this can be helpful is when using:

  • church christening records–was your relative’s record similar to others or is there something different about it (other than the names and dates)?
  • foreign language records–sometimes it can be easier to see what part of the entry is common to all and what is unique to each one–and that makes translating and transcribing easier
  • census records–compare difficult to read handwriting with other entries where the names may be easier to figure out
  • any record that you think is “off.”–do other records in the series have this same issue or not? You don’t know if you don’t look.

It’s all about context. Try and avoid looking at just one.

Pictures of Your Notes?

There are times where I still like to use pencil and paper.  For me, it’s just faster and one of those old habits that I just can’t get out of.

However, I need to keep those notes in a way that I won’t use them. Typically my notes are made while searching and making digital images of records. I was using a page from an 1895 genealogy of the Sargent family to start my search for vital records of the family.

To keep myself organized, I took a picture of my notes sheet and filed it with the digital images I made of the vital records that I located. Then when I go to review those images my notes are right there. If I need to take more notes, I can either takes notes on that image or print it, take more notes, and take another picture.

There are programs that one can use to take digital notes…but sometimes I just like to use paper and pencil.

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The Rite of Spelling Wright Right

There can be much gnashing of teeth about what spelling is “correct.”

It is important to remember that 20th and 21st century concerns over spellings and names matching exactly were not a concern in an earlier time. In some places they were not even a concern in the early 20th century.

Documents should be transcribed as they are written, even if the name is not spelled “right.”  If a census spells great-grandma’s name as “Fany,” that’s how I transcribe the document for my records. Because that is what it said. If my great-grandma’s birth certificate spells her name clearly as “Francis,” then that is what I transcribe the record as. I don’t change it. If great-grandma herself always signed it as Fannie and that’s what most of her records referred to her as, what she had on her tombstone, and what everyone referred to her as–then that’s how I refer to her when writing about her.

I don’t get in a tither when a document writes her name as “Frannie.” I make certain it is her (comparing other details in the document to what I know about her), I transcribe it exactly as it is, make a notation, and move on.

In the rite of transcription, one is right to transcribe “Wright” as “Right” if “Right” is how it’s spelled on the record. One of the rites of solid research is to to write, separate from the transcription, our own commentary about the “right” spelling.

The Importance of Reviewing

When was the last time you reviewed your genealogical information? It may be that:

  • you’ve made a mistake somewhere,
  • a new database has become available,
  • you’ve got new information that’s not been compared to what you already had,
  • etc.

I recently reviewed my ancestor table on my other site. In correcting an error I discovered new leads to follow.

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No Precise Borders

Some locations have precise geographic borders. Those borders may change over time, but often are reasonably well-established. Some places, particularly those whose names are informal and known to locals, may have more fluid boundaries or just be a general area. Ethnic regions of some urban areas can change over time and have boundaries that are in a constant state of flux or have no precise definition. In some rural areas, certain areas may have a name that known to locals but does not appear on any map, post office list, or other geographic finding aid.

Frequently these items are mentioned in newspapers, family letters and correspondence, and other unofficial records. Some thoughts on locating such places can be found in our recent post on Prairie Precinct in Winnebago County, Illinois.

Is One Hiding?

In families where the same name was used repeatedly, it can be easy to:

  • merge two different people with the same name into being the same person
  • confuse two different people with the same name and assign the wrong record or event to the wrong person
  • overlook yet another relative with the same name–there could always be one more

Correctly sifting out people with the same name can be difficult. Look at records that mention:

  • age
  • middle initials–if they even have them
  • spouse
  • occupational clues
  • specific residence or residential clues
  • relatives

And look at every record you can get your hands on in the area where all these people with the same name lived.

Property Owners: Got It, Were Taxed on It, Got of Rid of It

If your ancestor owned real property, you should search for at least the following records:

  • record of acquisition: a deed of purchase, patent, inheritance, etc.
  • payment of property taxes: do that or lose it.
  • record of disposal: deed of sale, will, foreclosure, tax sale, etc.

In the United States these are county-level records. Knowing your ancestor owned property is not enough–those records may provide more information.

Those Memories of the Last Few Days

It may sound morbid, but if you happen to be around when a loved one is at the end of their life, write down some of the more poignant moments.

Not the medical details, but the other little stories. A few days before my mother died, I had finally fallen asleep at around four in the morning only to have a nurse come in and perform a bed check. I yelled and shot out of my chair. There my mother and the nurse were, laughing as if it were the funniest thing they had ever seen. Who knows, maybe it was. I was aware enough of my surroundings not to be irritated that I was being laughed at.

And I remember my mother’s cousin and his wife coming to visit Mom a few days before she died and the two of them laughing over some childhood memory. Had I really been on my game, I would have written that memory down, but it’s now forgotten. But at least I have my recollection of the visit.

It’s always important to write down our own memories of life events. Things do get forgotten.

And never say “Mom’s cousin came to visit.” Always include their full name. Always.


Not Through New York

Not every immigrant into the United States filtered through New York City. Many did, but there were other ports of entry–both on the west and east coasts of the United States. There were immigrants who originally landed in Canada and crossed the border into the United States. My own forebears landed in New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans and one pair originally came to New Brunswick and crossed into the United States a few years later.

The initial point of arrival could have been impacted by the final destination within the United States. Most of my 19th century immigrants knew where they were headed: the rural upper Midwest. That impacted where they arrived.

You may have to get New York City out of your head to find your immigrant’s manifest entry.