Research Tip: Check Original Records

The number of records becoming available online is a tremendous value to all and allows them to be accessed by far more users than could do so on-site.  But, let’s not forget that there may be times when you miss out by not consulting the original records themselves.

Case in point – Tennessee Death Certificates.  Digitized versions of Tennessee Death Certificates are available online in two places:

  • — has images of TN death certificates spanning 1914-1955.  Access to the images requires a free registration.
  • Tennessee Electronic Library – has images of TN death certificates from 1908-1959.  Access to the images requires you are a resident of the state.

This is the death certificate for John Curtis Acuff (1925-1949) as it appears in the FamilySearch database.  If you look closely enough, you can see that there is writing bleeding through from the back of the document.

Front of Death Certificate: John Curtis Acuff

What might that be? In order to find out, you’d need to pull the original microfilm since neither the FamilySearch nor TSLA database captures the backside.

Back of Death Certificate

From the front of the death certificate we learn that Mr. Acuff died from carbon bisulfide poisoning.  On the back, there is additional detail about Mr. Acuff.  We learn that the post-mortem findings show that he drank the poison accidentally; he’d gone to the barn to get a bottle of liquor, but picked up the poison, which was kept on the same shelf.

The backs of the certificates can contain explanations of other components of what we see on the front. In this example:

  • Item 21A – on the front the options are accident, suicide or homicide. The back clarifies it was an accident.
  • Item 21B – on the front asks for place of injury; the back clarifies it happened in a barn
  • Item 21C & D – establishes county and date, but we knew those already
  • Item 21E – the back states this did not occur at his place of work
  • Item 21F – the back explains how the injury occurred

Isn’t this interesting? Next time you need a TN death certificate, remember to pursue the original!

Hat tip to the Acuff -Ecoff Family Archives for this great example.

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