The Death Register’s “Organization”

I’ve been using a death register from Adams County, Illinois, in the 1870 and 1880 time period.

It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. The entries in the death register appear to have been created from the actual death certificates. That means that technically what is in the death register is secondary information since it was copied from another source (the death certificate). That also means that the death register may contain errors–intentional or otherwise–that were not present in the actual certificate.

The ordering of the entries in the death register is an additional challenge. They are not in numerical order in the death register. They appear to be somewhat alphabetical based on the first letter of the last name, but then there seems to be entries for other surnames thrown into the “wrong letter section.”

The reminders:

  • Always ask yourself “what am I looking at?”
  • Ask yourself “how did information get into this record?”
  • Determine how the records are organized.

I initially thought the arrangement was alphabetical by the first letter of the last name and then in certificate order. In other words all the “A” entries were together sorted by certificate number. That was not the case as there were entries for other letters thrown into the “A” entries.

It took some doing to find the entries of interest, even though I had dates of death and certificate numbers from an index. Never assume anything is organized the way it initially appears to be. You may be wrong.

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