Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Informant

Are you like me and wonder how the informant on a death certificate learned the information?  In particular I'm thinking of the names and birth places of parents of the deceased.  Informants are often (though not always) children of the deceased.  How did those children learn the names of their deceased grandparents?  Did they personally know them and hear it from them?  Did they hear stories from their parents?  Was the family Bible a source of knowledge of genealogy?  How?

I've been thinking about this lately because on the death certificates of all except one of Christian Gerner's children, both he and his wife are named as parents. 
  • On daughter Emma's death certificate both parents are named.  Emma's daughter, Christian's granddaughter, provided the names of both of her grandparents.  (Further research is needed to determine which daughter.) 
  • On son Fred's death certificate his father is named but not his mother.  His wife, Elvira, was the informant.  Fred and Elvira had been married close to 25 years when Fred's father died, perhaps less time when his mother died.  Fred and Elvira had been married about 50 years when Fred died and the information would have been asked.  What happened?  (Wouldn't you know, this son is my great-grandfather!)
  • On son Charles's death certificate both parents are named (though with a misspelling). The informant was his oldest son who was about 12 when his grandfather Christian died; about 40 when the information for his father's death certificate was requested.
  • On junior Christian's death certificate both parents are named.  The informant was junior Christian's son, Lawrence.  Lawrence was 9 when his grandfather died, 45 when his father died and the information would have been asked.  Yet he knew the names of both of his grandparents. 

This happens again and again in my ancestral families:  some informants who are family members know the names of the deceased's parents and some don't.  It would be interesting to learn how they gained their information.  (If this were a Wishful Wednesday post, I would include:  I wish I could go back in time to see how children learned about families, family relationships, and ancestors.)

I think there's absolutely no chance that my daughters will be unable to give the names of my parents when I die.  If they don't remember they will be recorded and written down in several places.


Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I don't have lots of death certificates to compare, but I was stunned by one in which the wife (informant) didn't know either of her in-laws' names. Really? In all those years it never came up?

    1. It's no wonder you don't have many death certificates, Wendy: you're family history is already back a century or more before death certificates were even thought about!

      There are only three reasons I can think of for a spouse not knowing the names of his/her in-laws:
      1) The deceased had a poor relationship with his/her parents and never talking about them.
      2) One of the parents of the deceased died when he/she was a child and the other parent never spoke of the dead parent. (I believe this happened to one of my great-grandparents.)
      3) Grief caused a lapse in memory.

      I'm sure there are other reasons but still . . . .


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