I have been looking for the death record of my great grandmother who died in Rochester around 1899. She was around 27 years of age at the time.

Her maiden name was Mary Gagnon, wife of Joseph Bean (also known as Jos Lefebvre). I suspect they lived in Ogdenburg, and were visiting one of Jos' sisters in Rochester when Mary died.

The sister is Selina (Celina), who was married to Raphael Page who lived on Ontario street in ward 16 at the time.

Where should I look for the death record of Mary Bean (nee Gagnon)?

As I said in my last comment, here's a more complete story for my case.

When I first decided to search for my lineages I asked my family for informations. When it came to Jos's history I recieved a couple of different epic stories. The one who caught my attention was told by an uncle who had followed his alleged trace up to Scotland. According to him Jos would have been a scots sailor who entered Canada hidden in a boat hold, kidnapped a rich merchant's daughter in Nova Scotia then ran away in USA with her. That uncle is obsessed by anything pertaining to army epics so that king of saga is dear to him. He came back from Scotland with great clan bloody epics stories he sherish as beeing won by alleged remote ancesters.

I found that saga so bold and there was nothing else serious enough to guide me I decided to start by trying to deny those assumptions. First, if Jos were a sailor, he shouldn't have had any need to hide in a boat to get here. Second, if he had kidnapped a girl in Nova Scotia, he couldn't have been able to travel all the way down to USA without being caught during the travel. Telegraph exists, and trains or boats have to call at some places during the travel. So that part of the saga doesn't make sense to me.

I started with what was available, my grandfather's birth record. My uncle went to Ogdenburg to have it so he could ask for USA citizenship. That record stated his father is Joseph Lefebvre and mother Mary Gagnon. He also got their mariage record. So why his father's family here are Bean ?

I started by consulting the different censuses of the time starting in Ogdenburg. Nothing under Lefebvre. I tought maybe they changed names for any reason. So I chearched for Bean. Then I found Archibald Beans family where Jos stands. He a 7yo boy. That age matches his age at death. The census states the whole family as canadians.

First proof of false assumptions, Jos was not scots and didn't get to Canada by fraude he was too young.

On his mariage record his wife is Mary Gagnon. witness Achiles Lefebvre and Peter Gagnon. Mariage in Ogdenburg 1891.

In the 1874 Montreal Lovell's Peter is listed as working for GTR railways. In the 1894 Lovell's I find Peter He lives near the railway and port at . He's a brakeman. In 1896 he's still listed in the Lovell's but now as a labor.

Archibald Beans lives also in the same area.

I look in the microfilms at LDS churh and finds that Jos has been maried first in 1887. His wife and child died a little more than a year later.

Then I find the original for his mariage with Mary and the birth records of his children except for one daughter, Lidy. His first child dies also less than a year after birth.

Then no other informations found in USA. All those records are under Lefebvre.

I then look for them in Quebec province and find, always in the Lovell's that both Jos and his in law live in Montreal no more than one street apart. The two families seem very close together. Then I find Lidy's birth record there. Jos signs Lefebvre on the paperwork. Jos lives there from 1892 to 1894 then the family leaves for Ogdenburg. Dec. 1895 Alfred, my grandfather, is born.

Then Jos states that Mary died in Rochester. I look in FamilySearch, in US and Canada GenWeb, Ogdenburg Genealogy site, Ancestry.com, CyndisList, Rootsweb. No success.

I used Mary Gagnon and all distortions of the name, Mary Bean, Lefebvre, Mrs Jos Bean etc. Nothing. Nothing.

I started a tree on familytree to draw some infos. No success.

It's like she came from nowhere and vanished. She died during a harsh period of epidemics of all sorts. Maybe she caught some virulent virus and died. I wrote to some churches in the area, no record on her and no answer too. The same for hospitals.

I tought that maybe he got her remains and buried her in Ogdenburg. No chance even in churches or cemetaries.

Maybe it's because I write to them places instead of getting there. I don't know. And I'm out of ideas.

These searches have been made a couple of years ago. I did some again in the last months. A lot of sites say that they have the records but I must pay before I see. I'll have to put a significant budget to consult all what they have available.

That's why I ask for help. Maybe some of you are already using these facilities. I did the same for some Brits and French some years ago.

  • Presumably this family on Ontario Street in Rochester, New York: familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MSJ4-LC1 [1900 Census, Election District 3 Rochester City Ward 16, Monroe, New York, United States / ED 99 sheet 2B lines 56-60].
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 17, 2014 at 2:00
  • I see that Celina may have died in 1929 (listed in the City Directory, and probably also in the Drouin collection, though I don't have access to it to confirm the record is hers, and not someone else with the same name). Might there be a record for Mary in Canadian church records? Since this is so close to the border, there might be records on either side.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:44
  • 2
    Bill, could you list what sources you have for your great-grandmother, in addition to your grandfather's book? It would help if you could narrow down the window for when her death occurred. What is the last record you have that gives evidence of her still being alive, and what is the first record you have for Jos that indicates he is widowed?
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 18, 2014 at 5:29
  • For Annuaires Lovell de Montréal at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec see bibnum2.bnquebec.ca/bna/lovell/index.html (posted for those unfamiliar with these directories)
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 22, 2014 at 17:51
  • There are some newspapers online that cover news from Ogdensburg, New York, but the coverage is far from complete. It could be that an obituary / death notice / funeral notice might have been in the local paper but that the issue did not survive or is not online.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 22, 2014 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


Not all states in the US allow their death records, or indexes to those records, to be published online.

The Family Search Wiki's article How to Find New York Death Records gives a timeline for creation of state-wide death records, with pointers to the records depending on when they were created:

Deaths from 1880 thru 1913

Starting in June 1880, New York required ... village, town, and city registrars to record deaths. Copies of these deaths were then filed with the State Department of Health.

The New York Archives as well as nine other repositories in New York hold copies of microfiche indexes to death certificates. Contact one of these ten repositories (listed on the State Archives website) to search the index.

The Archives' website says:

Requests for genealogy copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates held by the New York State Department of Health may be dropped off at the New York State Archives or at:

New York State Department of Health

Vital Records Section

800 North Pearl St. (2nd Floor)

Menands, NY 12204

Local registrars of vital statistics (town, village, city, or consolidated county district) hold registers of births, marriages, and deaths or for recent decades, duplicate certificates.

The Family Search Wiki has a table listing the pros and cons of ordering a death certificate from the state vs. ordering from the county.

If you do not find your great-grandmother in the index, it's possible that her record may not have been indexed with the spelling that you expect, or that the index is not complete. You can also look for evidence of her death in other records. See the Family Search article: Substitute Records For United States Death Information.

See also the article FAMILY NAMES AND NICKNAMES IN COLONIAL QUÉBEC for suggestions of alternate spellings and a discussion of "dit" names. (The BEAN surname is not listed in this article; I include it for others reading this answer later who may be researching families from Quebec. The American-French Genealogical Society's index of dit names lists the association of Bean and Lefebvre.)

In my experience, when you're looking for information you can't find, it helps to collect all the information you have, and place life events in a timeline, with a note saying what the source is for each event. Write a biographical profile with all the information you have, so you can refer back to it, and make a checklist of the questions you'd like to answer and the records you'd like to find. As you search for records, keep a list of where you have searched, and the search terms you used, both for the records you find and the cases where no records are found. When you find records, you need to have enough information on hand to be able to see whether the new record belongs to your great-grandmother or someone else with a similar name. You can also mine your biographical profile for keywords to use when searching for an obituary. I've found many obituaries by searching for the names of the survivors, or with the husband's name (Mrs. Jos Lefebvre), or by using the first name and the search terms "born" plus the country of birth for people born outside the US.

Family Search's online historical record collection, New York Deaths and Burials, 1795-1952, is an incomplete name index of records held on microfilm at the Family History Library.

This index is an electronic index for the years 1867 to 1961. It is not necessarily intended to index any specific set of records. This index is not complete for any particular place or region. This collection may include information previously published in the International Genealogical Index or Vital Records Index collections.

See the larger article New York Deaths and Burials (FamilySearch Historical Records) for information about what areas and times might be covered.

(For others searching for death records in the state of New York: note that records for New York City are kept by the NYC Archives. There are also some periods where Yonkers, Albany, and Buffalo did not submit their records to the state.)

Edited to add material from the comments. Here are suggestions for other ways to find information about this family, to find more clues about Mary's date of death:

  • Do we know where Mary is buried?
  • Do we know where Jos is buried?
  • Mary presumably was visiting Jos' sister and died in Rochester while visiting that family. Was she visiting alone, or was Jos' visiting also? Assuming for the moment that Mary was visiting this family when she died -- could she have been taken to a hospital that was across a town or county border, so that her place of death, as officially recorded, is not Rochester?
  • Bill guesses that Mary might have had some sort of accident. If so, are there newspaper accounts or coroner's inquest reports?
  • When searching a death index, widen the area of search. When searching for a death that took place "about 1899" -- if you search for only 1899, your search will miss a death that happened in Dec 1898.
  • How would Mary have traveled between Ogdensburg and Rochester, by water? Train? Some other method? If she died en route, where would the death have been reported?
  • Other possible records about Jos: if he moved back to Canada, would he appear in the 1901 Census of Canada? If he traveled to the US after 1895, is he in the St. Albans lists (Canadian Border Crossings to the US)?
  • Did Mary have siblings? Did Jos have other siblings besides Selina/Celina who lives in Rochester?

Re-examining ALL the records about this family, and looking for clues to ANY other evidence that might relate to this family, could yield other clues that might lead to a death record. But it might take multiple steps to get there, so try to make as complete a picture of the family as you can.

One of the techniques I like to use, to keep myself from getting stuck because of a mistaken assumption on my part, is to assume I am looking for records from multiple families, and that my goal is to sort them out and prove which records belong to which family. For instance: in the 1896 Ogdensburg, New York, City Directory, in the US City Directories colletion on Ancestry.com, there are two listings for Joseph Bean. One is a laborer, h over 5 Seymour. The other is the proprietor of a woodyard, h 31 Congress. (There's also a Mrs J.S. Bean at a third address.) So any record from Ogdensburg needs to be evaluated in light of the fact that there is more than one Joseph in town. Rather than say "my great-grandfather Jos lived at 5 Seymour in 1896", I prefer to write in my notes "my great-grandfather Jos might be the Joseph Bean who is listed in the 1896 Ogdensburg City Directory because the family history is that he was a laborer". Why do I do this? Because the City Directory doesn't give evidence of age (except in the rare case where deaths are listed in the directory) or enough identifying evidence to show for sure that this is the person you are researching, and the information that the directory publisher collects often lags behind the actual residence of people (when they leave town or move, it will take time for the publisher to catch up to that).

Here are some other links to articles about "dit" names:

Understanding Dit names by Kimberly Powell at About.com

Found primarily in France, New France (French-Canada, Louisiana, etc.), and Scotland, dit names are essentially an alias tacked on to a family name or surname. Dit in French is a form of the word dire, which means "to say," and in the case of dit names is translated loosely as "that is to say," or "called." Therefore, the first name is the family's original surname, passed down to them by an ancestor, while the "dit" name is the name the person/family is actually called or known as. Dit names are used by families, not specific individuals, and are usually passed down to future generations, either in place of the orginal surname, or in addition to it.

Canada: Names, Personal (FamilySearch Wiki)

Alias Surnames.

In French-speaking areas of Canada, individuals may have taken a second surname. In the records this may be preceded by dit. This common practice was to distinguish between families with common surnames like ROY who were not related at all, or to distinguish between branches of the same family. Sometimes a branch of the family adopted the dit name as the family name, and dropped the original surname.

see also:

The Name Game – Tips for Finding the Real Names of French-Canadian Ancestors by Michael J. Leclerc (NEHGS)


Genealogy of Quebec: What are dit names - FrancoGene

Further Reading

  • I've been working on that lineage for years and never been able to find anything on her. All the possible sources including those you mention have been searched. It's impossible that a person's death haven't been recorded somehow. She got maried in Ogdenburg, gave birth there, burried a child there. It confuses me. My g-grand wrote in a family book that Mary died in Rochester so it must be true !. I've searched on her maid name which is Gagnon and all the variations of the name always with no success. A real mystery !
    – Bill
    Mar 17, 2014 at 14:22
  • When you say "My g-grand wrote in a family book that Mary died in Rochester so it must be true", can I play Devil's Advocate, and ask whether your great grandfather might have had any reason to say that she died in Rochester, if he knew that she had died elsewhere? It is a horrible thought, but if no death record is found, and he is the only source of the information, then perhaps it needs to be considered. I just looked on Google Maps to see that Rochester and Ogdensburg are 200 miles apart so perhaps her dying there would have been difficult to question at that time.
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 18, 2014 at 4:46
  • 1
    It's also possible for someone to be out of town and die on the way home. I have no idea where deaths get registered when people die in transit. Investigating modes of travel between Ogdensburg and Rochester might yield some clues.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 18, 2014 at 5:19
  • 1
    @Bill -- could you write up a summary of the records you have and the timeline you have for this family, and add that information to your original question? [See my question: What are good search techniques for finding people who have moved within the same geographical area? genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/3922/… as an example.] Seeing what you already have will make it easier for others to make suggestions about how to find other information.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 19, 2014 at 15:10
  • 1
    @Bill -- records of Canadian Border Crossings begin in 1895 familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/… -- have you found records for Jos? They might yield more clues for you. It's okay to make theories but don't let them block you from finding other information. Try to be aware of your assumptions, and remember that the same record can have both truth and mistakes in it. (My father-in-law's obit has his hometown misspelled. We know the real place but 100 years from now no one will know the funeral home is the one that made the error.)
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 19, 2014 at 15:19

I think that at one point there seemed to be a Scottish connection. If so LEFEVRE is an Aberdeen name, both in 1871 and now. There were 10 Joseph Bains in the 1871 census, but none in Aberdeen. 'Bain' would come from the gaelic 'bhan' = fair/white

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