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Finding New Death Certificates on Seeking Michigan

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Yes, you read the headline correctly. I’m talking about Michigan death certificates. Just because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Buckeye doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a great genealogical resource from that state up north. (Plus, my 3rd-great-grandmother Margaret McKitrick died there in 1924, so I was pretty excited to see this new collection!)

Seeking Michigan (seekingmichigan.org) has had death certificates from 1897-1920 on the site for some time. This week, they added 1921-1939. (NOTE: The title of the collection currently reads “1921-1952.” The index from 1940-1952 will actually be added over the next few weeks, with images added as Michigan’s 76-year privacy restriction allows.)

To access these new certificates, go to seekingmichigan.org and click “Advanced Search” at the top of the page:

Seeking Michigan website death certificates

You’ll get a search form and you can select which collection(s) you want to search:


Although you can search both sets of death certificates at once, I suggest you search them separately. My experience is that combining the two collections and doing a search for “Last Name” (rather than “All fields”) breaks the search. For example, I did a search for Behnke in “Last Name” and had both collections selected. I got zero results. However, when I did the search for Behnke in “Last Name” in just the 1897-1920 collection, I got 32 results. There is no “Last Name” option for the 1921-1952 collection. (I suspect this is the issue with getting no results when combined and doing a “Last Name” search. Hopefully the fine folks at Seeking Michigan will get the fields mapped so that “Last Name” will work as expected.)

(UPDATE: Kris Rzepczynski of the Archives of Michigan confirmed that there is a little bug with the new collection that isn’t allowing searches by “Last Name.” This should be fixed when the 1940-1952 certificates are added in a few weeks. In the meantime, either search the two collections separately or leave the search field as the default “All fields.”)

Searching for Margaret McKitrick

My 3rd-great-grandmother Margaret McKitrick died in Michigan in 1924. I did my searches only in the “1921-1952” collection. The first search I did was for McKitrick in all fields — and I got zero results. I did the search again for Mc Kitrick (with a space) in all fields and got this result:

Margaret McKitrick results in Seeking Michigan

Tip: When working with “Mc” or “Mac” surnames, always run your search twice — once with a space and once without.

This results looks like the one I’m looking for. Yay! To see the certificate, I clicked the little thumbnail image.

Seeking Michigan death certificate viewer

I can click and drag the image to see different parts of it, I can zoom in and out. I can also download the whole image to my computer and also share it to social media. (Because who doesn’t want to share their ancestors’ death certificates on Facebook?! Seriously. This would be great for sharing with your cousins!)

I was thrilled when I found Margaret’s death certificate. There has been conjecture among her descendants about her mother’s maiden name. I know that Margaret’s maiden name was Morrison and that her father’s name was John. I also suspect that her mother was Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Finally, a record that should tell me Margaret’s mother’s maiden name! I scrolled down on the certificate, anxious to read the section about parents. There, I found…

Close-up of Margaret McKitrick's death certificate

Close-up of Margaret McKitrick’s death certificate

Father: John “Marson”

Mother: Unk.

Apparently Margaret’s son Elmer, the informant on her death certificate, didn’t know the name of his grandmother. Sigh. All Seeking Michigan can do is provide the certificate. They can’t do anything about uninformed informants 😉

How and Why to Use Genealogy Gophers

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There’s a problem with OCR (optical character recognition). Yes, it helps us find text that is buried deep in the pages of an unindexed book or newspaper. The problem is that OCR is literal. Search for “William” and it will look for “William,” but not “Wm.” (Did you just think of how many references to your “Wm.” you’ve missed over the years? Kinda scary, isn’t it?)

That’s where Genealogy Gophers (gengophers.com) comes in.


What Is Genealogy Gophers?

Genealogy Gophers is a new (FREE!) site developed by Dallan Quass, the mastermind behind WeRelate.org. Dallan is one of the sharpest, smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. So when I saw that he had a new site, I had to check it out.

The site searches 40,000 genealogy books that have been digitized by FamilySearch. Most are books that were published prior to 1923. They range from county histories to city directories to family histories. There’s a little bit of everything.

Using Genealogy Gophers

It is super easy to use — just type in a name.

Genealogy Gophers search box.

Genealogy Gophers search box.

There are two ways to search: Texts and Titles. If you want to look for references to your ancestors, start with the Texts search. You’ll need to enter either a first name or a last name. You can narrow your search by entering a place, time period, and the names of relatives (great for helping you narrow down your search for those ancestors with common names.)

Here’s the cool part: It’s smart about how it searches. I did a search for George Debolt. With other full-text searching, if I searched for George Debolt, it would give me just that — pages with “George” on the same page as “Debolt.” Genealogy Gophers does that, but also finds “Geo” and “G.”

genealogy-gophers-geoOther full-text searching would have missed this entry because it isn’t exactly “George.” I cannot stress how super cool this is!

Searching by Title

This is kind of a misnomer. Yes, when you search by title, it includes the title, but it also includes the description. You can find some real hidden gems this way!

I did a title search for Sherrick family. Here’s one of the results:


The title is History of the Stemen Family, but there are enough Sherricks in the book that they were added as a subject. If the Sherricks I’m researching had ties to the Stemens, this is a book I want to look at!

Looking at the Books

You found something you want to look at (chances are that you will!) Click the title of the book or the thumbnail image. You’ll be taken to a page like this:


Genealogy Gophers uses Google Surveys to generate revenue. (They have to pay the bills somehow!) For each survey completed, they get a nickel. You should get a survey once a day; if you get one every time you try to read a book, check out their FAQ page for steps to fix it. (Also, they are considering an optional annual fee for those who don’t want to answer surveys.)

After you fill out the survey, you’ll see the image. If you had done a text search, it would take you to the specific page you found. If you had done a title search (like with the Sherrick family), it would take you to the title page.

While you’re looking at a book, you can do a search just within that title, using the search box above the image. You can also download the entire book as a PDF.


The top of the image page allows you do do a search just within that book. You can also download a PDF of the entire book.

My Review

Genealogy Gophers is easy to use and gives great results. They already have 40,000 books and are planning on adding another 60,000 in the coming months. Its intelligent approach to full-text searching will help researchers find things that have previously been hidden by traditional OCR. For the price of filling out an occasional survey, Genealogy Gophers is well worth your time. Go dig in!

I used to be an admin on WeRelate and I know Dallan personally. However, he did not ask me to do this review, nor have I been compensated in any way for doing so.

5 Misspelled, Misused Genealogy Words… and How to Get Them Right

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Our ancestors tended to be…. shall we say…. “creative” spellers. When we’re indexing or transcribing, we need to preserve that. But when it comes to our own words, we’re supposed to get it right.

There are some words in genealogy that trip up everyone. Here are three words that I often see misspelled, along with two pairs of words that are often mixed up — and how I keep them straight in my mind. (Note: I’m not claiming that my methods are particularly witty or poetic, just that they help me remember!)

5 Misspelled, Misused Genealogy Words and How to Get Them RightWant to use this on your blog? Click here to download it. Just make sure the bottom part of the graphic is visible. Having a link back to here would be great, too 😉

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