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In the last few days I have been looking at abstracts / e-copies of Death Certificates on Ancestry and FamilySearch primarily. While I have not obtained any originals or photos of any yet I have seen great variation in the information on them and a great source of information for the information on the deceased parents if the information is available, especially in the comments section, if present.

My question, taking into account that certificates vary by state and time period:
Is there a general guide for interpreting them and the abbreviations they may have in the comments sections?

For example in IL from the 1920s on one I found "11d at place DTH" . Ref: FHL FILM NUMBER: 1818999, Death certificates for the state of Illinois, 1916-1945, excluding Chicago with the exception of stillbirths; index, 1916-1938; internet index, 1916-1950. The rest of the family is known to have survived and they were buried 2 days after their death. I thought maybe there was a school fire (this is from a child) and searched Google and the County Historical Societies website which even has a 'Disasters" section and nothing was mentioned. But this is just an example of why I want to know how to interpret them...

My question: I am looking for a reference guide I may use to interpret these type of comments and was wondering if anyone has come across any other guides like they have for other record types mentioned in the forum?

  • I like the puzzle presented by "11d at place DTH" - are you able to provide some more context (if not an image) and perhaps ask that as a separate question? – PolyGeo Dec 10 '14 at 13:36
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It is much easier to interpret what a record might say if you take into account the context in which the information appears.

We don't have a snipping of the certificate, nor do you say what question this phrase is intended to answer. So let's assume you find this in someone else's abstract or transcription and you don't know those things. How can you figure them out?

This inventory of records pertaining to patients in the Illinois state mental hospital gives us a list of the information found on death certificates from that period:

For 1920-1942 forms also include deceased patient's birth date; permanent residence; length of residence at place of death; length of residence in United States; name and age of spouse, if married; father's name and birthplace; mother's maiden name and birthplace; and the name and address of informant.

I would guess this is the answer to "length of residence at place of death" and the answer is 11 days.

A search for "Illinois death certificate instructions" found the instructions for funeral directors filling out the information (downloadable PDF) in the modern-day Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) computer system.

With a little digging, you might be able to find the same kind of information for the 1920s; if there is a suggested list of abbreviations, it would be in the instructions. Whenever you are looking at microfilmed records or digital images online, check the beginning of the film roll or set of records -- sometimes you'll find the instructions at the front.

Most of the guides I've found have to do with obsolete medical terms, but to find other guides like the one you're asking for, I'd look for state research guides for the state of Illinois, and guides to local records in Illinois public libraries and archives.

The Illinois' state archives website has an online death certificate search. See this page on Illinois Death Certificates, 1916–1950 for more information about the history of collection vital records and more background about this record set.

When you find guides about genealogical records, they are often about locating records, like Joe Beine's site Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records. Guides on interpreting records are not as easy to find. But very often, there are about this collection pages that describe the specific record set that you are looking at. Always look at those 'about the collection' pages if they are present.

You may not be able to find a general guide for all localities, but if you can find other database descriptions or instructions from the same time period, they may provide clues to what information was collected and what abbreviations were in general use at that time.

Other resources:

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    I do not have a copy of the specific example, I am looking at the cataloged text from the certificates. Some I have found I can order copies but at $20 a piece I was hoping to have a reference guide for getting the base information out of the e-copy as this is likely not the only one I will encounter. I was not attempting to answer the specific example in this question, but looking for a specific reference guide so I can answer my own questions now and going forward. – CRSouser Dec 10 '14 at 16:57
  • Yes, I guessed that you didn't have a copy of the certificate. I hope that having a modern-day copy of the blank certificate will be some help. I saw your edit to the question and up-voted it after your edit that emphasized you were looking for guides. I've added the title and a link to the FHL film you consulted. Could you also add your comment to your answer, so it will be clearer that you are looking at an abstract? Once you've done so, we can delete these comments. Thanks. – Jan Murphy Dec 10 '14 at 17:35
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Perhaps "11 days at place of death"?

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