Hughes' Views & News

Errors in Genealogical Records: A Case Study

Posted in Genealogy by tahughesnc on June 26, 2014

UPDATE (posted Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014):  I am way overdue in posting this, but I am happy to report that the Alabama Department of Public Health has amended this death certificate as I requested.

I started my search for my great-great grandfather’s death certificate armed with what I thought was all of the correct information, which I provided on the application form that I sent to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

As the form requested, I gave his full name — James Thompson Hughes. I also gave the names of his parents, the dates of his birth and death, and the two Alabama counties where I thought he was likely to have been when he died, Fayette and Pickens. I even included a print out of his Find-A-Grave memorial, which showed that we was buried in the Ashcraft Corner Cemetery in Fayette County, when I mailed in my form and the required $15 payment.

After some time had passed, I received a letter saying they had conducted a search of death certificates from Fayette County but were not able to find one that matched the information I had provided.

However, I knew at the time there was a death certificate on file reporting that Thomas Hughes, an 89-year-old white, male widower, died near Millport, in Lamar County, Alabama, on June 30, 1919. My great-great grandfather was called “Thomps,” which was an abbreviation of his middle name, and which sounds a lot like “Thomas.” According to his headstone, “Thomps” died on June 29, 1919. And, he was an 89-year-old white, male widower at the time of his death.

Millport, Alabama is less than 15 miles from the cemetery where Thomps is buried. So, I ordered a copy of the death certificate for Thomas Hughes, which is shown below. I believe this is the death certificate for my great-great grandfather and that his first name was simply recorded incorrectly.

0478_001Notice that the physician who certified the cause of death was A. W. Clanton. He was Albert William Clanton, and he also happened to be the nephew of Thomps’ first wife, Epsey Clanton.

In addition, in 1900 when this Albert W. Clanton was 19 years old, he and his mother lived in a household in Palmetto, in Pickens County, that was headed by Essie Cornelia Dollar Hughes. In 1900 Cornelia, as she was called, was the widow of John B.D. Hughes, who was a son of Thomps and his first wife, Epsey Clanton.

All of these factors taken together convince me that the man whose death is recorded on this certificate was not “Thomas Hughes” but was instead my great-great grandfather, Thomps Hughes. I have submitted an official request asking the Alabama Department of Public Health to amend this death certificate accordingly. So far I have not received a reply to that request.

What are the take-away lessons for me in this? When doing genealogical research, sometimes you won’t find what you’re looking for if you only search for what you believe to be the “correct” name of your ancestor. In such cases, you need to consider the possibility that your ancestor’s official records, including death certificates, may have been recorded under an alternate spelling of your ancestor’s name, or even under the wrong name. You also need to consider the possibility that the county where your ancestor is buried may not necessarily be the county where your ancestor died.

 

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