My Great-Grandfather’s Error-Filled Death Certificate

My great-grandfather James Walton died when my maternal grandfather was six years old.

The personal information on James’ death certificate was provided by Alfred Pearson, his wife’s brother-in-law.

2015 12-10 DC 1911 James Walton

And much of it is wrong.

Alfred got a few things right; James Walton did not have a middle name. And he was male, white and married.

But James wasn’t born in Ohio. He was born on the Isle of Man on the 16th of March in 1871.

James’ father (also named James) was born on the Isle of Man too. Why did Alfred think of Ohio?  James Sr. had immigrated to Cleveland with his IOM born wife Isabella (nee Joughin) and their infant son in August of 1871. I’m sure Alfred knew of James Sr. because of James’ visits to his son’s family in Chicago.

Had my great-grandfather been a Chicago resident for 16 years? This hasn’t been easy to prove or disprove, but it is entirely possible;  James’ oldest child Myrtle was born in Chicago in  April of 1898.

Interestingly, Alfred wasn’t the only one providing mis-information on this vital record. According to the physician’s statement, James was seen alive on the 11th of December. Except that he died on the 10th.

So, what on this document is accurate? Well James did work with tin and may have been a shearhand. He lived on Albany Avenue, he died of tuberculosis, and he is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

Several years ago I transcribed James’ death certificate. That’s when I noticed all the errors it contained. The transcription process was a valuable learning opportunity. Now I transcribe every document pertaining to my ancestors. It’s amazing how much more I see when I write down every word that appears on a document.

14 thoughts on “My Great-Grandfather’s Error-Filled Death Certificate

  1. I have my own son’s marriage license and when the minister filled it out he put the wrong town down as place of marriage. When they asked him to please correct it. He refused to do that. He said it was an official document and he would not correct it. I went to the Anglican Diocese and the official person there gave me a new copy and it was corrected. What a pain that was. Just shows you that even when things are supposed to be right they can be mistaken.


  2. I always chuckle when some genealogists say that they will not accept a fact without documented proof. They quickly point to a birth or death certificate or census form as the type of proof they accept. You have aptly shown the problem with a death certificate. As far as the Census, in my own family I found they often misspoke (lied) to the census taker – and of course were not consistent in their facts from census to census. That’s what makes this so much fun – and so maddening. Let’s not forget “Americanizing” names or changing surnames. In one of my trees they changed their surname from Jastrzembowicz to Rosen (I don’t blame them). When asked where they came up with “Rosen” the response was that they knew a guy named Rosen in the old country and “he was a nice guy.”


    • I like a trifecta of proof when one is available. A few decades of genealogy have shown me there is no one-stop shopping when you’re doing family history research.

      Rosen because he was a nice guy? What could be better?!? 🙂


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