A Tucson blogging buddy of mine writes Strait from NJ: Genealogy from Sussex County, NJ. Her first 2017 post introduced the theme “52 Documents in 52 Weeks,” with the goal of determining what type of genealogical information can be gleaned from various types of records.
I love this idea because it is a great teaching tool for everybody in that it not only points out obvious – and not so obvious – information and issues with any one type of record, it also is a great opportunity to share some “thinking outside the box” efforts when traditional records can’t be found or just plain don’t exist.
Document #1 that I am sharing is one of the first vital records that I purchased way back around 1980 when I was a total newbie. It is the death certificate of my 3X great grandfather, George Rogers Tarbox.
Before this record came in the mail, I knew that George was born around 1817 or 1818, based on the 1870 and 1880 censuses.
Remember, back then, census records were only publicly available up to 1900 and he was born either in Massachusetts or Maine, per those two census records.
I was pretty sure that George had been born in Maine because I had also found him in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, both of which gave Maine as his birthplace.
I was over the moon when I opened the envelope:
George R. Tarbox Death Certificate
First, let me explain that what I received wasn’t a photocopy of this image. It was a modern death certificate, with an official seal and signature, and the pertinent data had been transcribed onto the form.
Name: George R. Tarbox
Place of Death: Calais
Date of Death: Jan. 27, 1895
Age: Years -76, Months – 1, Days – 13
Place of Birth: New Gloucester, ME
Sex: M Color: W Married, Single, Widowed, Divorced: W
Cause of Death: General physical exhaustion
Place of Burial: Calais
Name of Father: John Tarbox
Maiden Name of Mother: —
Birthplace of Father: —
Birthplace of Mother: —
Occupation of Father: Farmer
Name and address of physician (or other person) reporting said death: Jarvis B. Woods, M.D., Red Beach, Calais
STATE OF MAINE
I hereby certify that the above death record is correct to
the best of my knowledge and belief.
Clerk of Calais
The tidbit that most excited me was the name of George’s father, which I had not known: John. He was the first 4X great grandparent that I had discovered.
This document is primary evidence of the death of George Rogers Tarbox, as it was created very soon after his death, but what about some of the other facts listed? His age is given as 76 years, 1 month and 13 days, which would place his date of birth about 14 December 1818, reportedly in New Gloucester, Maine, which is in Cumberland County, near Portland. Calais is in Washington County and just across the Canadian border at St. Stephen, New Brunswick.
Further, the name of his father is reportedly “John,” but his mother’s name was not known or reported by the informant, who is not named on this death certificate. The informant was most likely one of his children, as wife Mary predeceased him by many years, dying in 1866.
Was the informant present at George’s birth? Not likely. Did the informant know George’s father? Possibly. It is also possible that George’s father long outlived George’s mother so the informant never knew her. However, this is all supposition.
What did I do next? I fired off a letter to the New Gloucester, Maine town clerk. (Records in New England were generally kept at the town level, not by the county.)
I requested a birth certificate for George Rogers Tarbox, born about 14 December 1818 to John Tarbox and an unknown mother. What did I receive in return?
New Gloucester Vital Records
First of all, Jabez Woodman served as the town clerk of New Gloucester for about 20 years from the 1810s to about 1839. It is evident from this transcription that the information was not recorded immediately after the children’s birth since he noted the day he recorded each batch of information. Second, this is a typed transcription, which could lend itself to errors not found in the original. If you look at the entry to child #3 – Samuel – his birthdate is given as May 27, but someone wrote in ink above it (Mar?) indicating he/she wasn’t sure.
However, as imperfect as this birth record it, it confirmed George’s date of birth as 14 December 1818 in New Gloucester, Maine. On the other hand, the first 4X great grandfather entered on my family tree – John Tarbox – came off it almost as quickly as he went on it. George’s parents were William Tarbox and Judith Haskell.
William Tarbox died in New Gloucester in 1860; wife Judith (Haskell) Tarbox died the following year, 1861, also in New Gloucester. Of George’s five surviving children, only Elizabeth and Nellie, born in 1851 and 1854, might have had memories of their paternal grandparents if they had ever even met them. In any case, George must not have talked much about his parents because the informant didn’t know who they were.
Death certificates have wrong information on them as often as they have correct data. “Facts” recorded on them need further verification.
Next week, I will share a death certificate where both informants are personally known to me.