The Curious Case of the Multiple Death Certificates

I decided to post this question in the “Evidence Analysis Issues” forum rather than the “Citation Issues” forum because, although I do have a citation question, I think this is, at heart, an evidence analysis query.

I have two death certificates for the same person: one is found at: and the other at

Although the content is not identical, there is enough overlap to convince me that these both refer to the same person (Name, DOD, Age, Birthplace, parents, informant, place of burial, attending physician.) It is the differences, however, that lead to my quandary.

The simple difference to explain is the birth date: when I use the age to calculate the birth date from the death date, the birth date given on the North Carolina death certificate calculates “correctly,” while the one on the Virginia death certificate is “incorrect.” Other records not included here corroborate the birth date shown on the North Carolina Death Certificate. I can offer no explanation for the Virginia birth date.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter. There is a death certificate for North Carolina stating that she died in North Carolina, but there is also a death certificate for Virginia stating that she died in Virginia. To make this more interesting the Virginia death certificate was created using a North Carolina form, but the issuer in the title was manually changed from North Carolina to Virginia. Both certificates show the same cause of death, but the Virginia certificate adds a contributory cause, and mentions an automobile accident. Could this be the clue? Is it possible that she was involved in an automobile accident in Palmer Springs, Mecklenburg County, Virginia but was transported back to Enfield, Halifax County, North Carolina where she died? (Looking at a map, Enfield is (today) about 48 miles from Palmer Springs. It is not unreasonable to assume that a person could be in an automobile accident on one place and be transported to the other where they later die. Of course, road conditions in 1921 were very different from today.)

My questions: What does the fact that there are two death certificates tell me? Why was a Virginia certificate created after the North Carolina certificate, using a North Carolina form? Is there other information in these two records that I am not seeing — what else do these two records tell me? And the big question, do these records tell me where she died?

Of course, there is also a citation quandary: how do I cite this? I know how to cite either of the records by themselves. Can I (or should I) put both certificates into a single reference note? If so, which one goes into which layer? Or, is it better to state/explain in the text that there is a death certificate from North Carolina and create a single reference note for that, then state/explain that there is also a Virginia death certificate and create a single reference note for that one, thus avoiding the challenge of putting both into a single reference note?



Submitted byEEon Tue, 05/08/2018 - 10:08

Tom, you've an interesting situation, for sure. You have analyzed it well. For certain, the certificates are for the same woman. There are a few other considerations we might mention also.

1. The NC certificate was filed 19 July 1921. The VA certificate (using a NC form) was filed 30 July 1921.

2. Her place of residence a few months earlier (1920 census) was Halifax County, NC., which the death certificate gives as her place of burial.

3. The NC certificate identifies the doctor as a resident of Wise, NC. The VA certificate identifies the township of death as Palmer Springs, VA. Today, Wise and the community of Palmer Springs are just 7 miles apart.

4. Both say she died at 3 a.m. after "9 hours" or "few hours" after the automobile accident (which occurred on the 13th.

Given the proximity of the two communities, the likeliest explanation would seem to be that the accident occurred in Virginia, that she was treated by the "nearby" doctor, that he filled out a NC form because those were the ones he usually used and she was (after all) a North Carolian, but then Virginia said "Whoa. She died here. We need a certificate on file in this state." Then he filled out another form, lined through "North Carolina" and wrote "Virginia" and sent it off to Virginia.

Question: Have you searched the area newspapers for an account of the accident and an obituary?

As for the citation issue: If you are citing a piece of information that appears on both certificates, you need only one note. (Remember, we attach evidence to the piece of information we're using.) Both certificates can be cited in the same note. The circumstances of her death, which created the two certificates, are something that we'd normally discuss in the text as part of her life story.

Submitted bytmphelpson Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:57

Thank you for the analysis help and suggestions. I knew I was missing some important clues, so your ideas are very helpful.

I have checked area newspapers, but have not found any mention of either an accident or her death. I do need to do more research to find out if I have missed anything.

Thank you for the comment on the citation. It helps clarify my thinking.

While I think your analysis makes a lot of sense, my instinct is that in my genealogical summary I will refer to her death as "probably in Palmer Springs . . ." accompanied by a discussion of the two death certificates.