walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

The Washington State Death Certificate Project

Different jurisdictions have different rules for accessing Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death records. I was born in Washington State, as was my father and his siblings, and their mother. My mother moved to Washington State when she was a few years old and lived in the state thereafter (AFAIK, anyway!); her mother and siblings (mostly) did so also.

Because I have many relatives who lived and died in Washington State, and because Washington State has quite liberal rules for copies of BMD records, it has been in the back of my head for a while that I should just fill out the forms, write a check and get the records. When my sister and I were discussing our medical history as part of a doctor's visit she had made, Someday became, Okay, Let's Just Do This Now. I finally had a reason to get death certificates: we wanted to know what our relatives had died of, officially, because we had variant recollections.

While I was getting grandparents and great grand parents and so forth records, I also requested records for aunts, uncles, great uncle, great aunt, cousins, etc. Even with deaths that occurred in my lifetime, my family had been very reticent about the cause of death. As long as I was doing thing, I thought, might as well do this. Well, when people warn you as you embark on family history that you really don't know what you are going to find and so you should be prepared for anything, I usually scoffed, because I was like, you cannot surprise me. Well, I got a few surprises when 14 death certificates arrived at once. The cumulative weight of so many lives ending -- some due to old age, many due to illnesses that are readily cured now with antibiotics, and a few due to violence -- was also surprisingly heavy.

I found myself putting down the stack and walking away from it, to think about what I had just read, and then coming back and gleaning more details. One cousin is listed as "divorced"; I did not know he had been married. I'll have to look through the Washington Marriage records again in the Digital Archive. It is probably there, just mistranscribed because the last name is unusual. It took over a week before I was able to calmly photograph the 15 pages (one certificate had two pages) and upload them to ancestry.

It is not cheap to order certificates and other records, at least not in my experience (a couple of states and a couple provinces). This batch cost almost $300. It can also be very slow. If you think ancestry is expensive, well, the amount I spent on these 14 records would pay for about a year, depending on which options you selected.

But there is more here than appears in the indexes that you can access online, and sometimes more even than in the online transcriptions. Especially if your genealogy is driven by questions of "how", more than "when", collecting these records, as with divorce records, is really worth the money and time.
Tags: genealogy

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