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Journey # 17: Death Records: Why do I need them?

During my visits to the Victoria Genealogy Society's resource centre, I was asked over and over again by the volunteers if I'd found the death record for whomever I was talking about. Each time I said no. I didn't really care about when anyone died and didn't really understand why they did. At first I didn't even ask, I just said no. Eventually I had to ask.

I got varying answers, all of which were valid but the two most important ones were:
* If you know when the person died, you might be able to find an obituary, will or probate record that may provide valuable information such as where/when s/he was born and the names of children (including married names).
* If you don't know when a person died, you won't know when to stop looking for him/her.

So I began, reluctantly, looking for death records. But I found this to be the most difficult of all the records to identify.

First, the online records showed very little information about the person who died — often just a name and year. Sometimes there wasn't even an age of the person at the time of death. So how do you know if this person is even a candidate for your ancestor?

Second, because the death registry didn't require full documentation (such as a birth certificate), the information provided was sometimes general, for example, an age rather than a birthdate (similar to the census).

Third, the spouse or parent was probably the person who had the most accurate information about the deceased but was also the most grief-stricken. This meant that the task of death notification typically fell to other family members, who were often ignorant of the person's vital statistics. The information provided was essentially hearsay.

And although I persisted in the pursuit of death records, I was generally unsuccessful. I knew I would need this information at some time, but at that point in my research it was frustrating at best and a complete waste of time at worst.

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