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Vital records are the backbone of your research
Published: 14 February 2010
By: Shirley Gage Hodges   Biography & Archived Articles

Shirley G. Hodges
Learning to use vital records to their full advantage is very important. Vital records are the backbone of your research. The very word "research" implies training, background and preparation. Genealogical research requires knowledge of sources and knowledge of technique. It also requires imagination and common sense.

In my opinion, information that can not be verified through vital records or some other recognized source has to remain in the category of a clue until you can verify it.

Many times it seems as thought our ancestors deliberately put up barriers so that we can't find them. I am sure that many of you have sometimes felt like you have run into the proverbial brick wall. The only way that we can get over these brick walls many times is by locating the vital records.

It is so important that you really check out everything in your homes and the homes of your family first. Many times people spend years looking for something that was tucked away in boxes under the bed, in the attic or in Grandma's old truck. Many times these precious birth, marriage and death certificates may be tucked away in scrapbooks and family Bibles. Make sure that you talk with your older relatives.

We also have to learn that sometimes the vital records that we examine are not always accurate. They are only as good as the person giving the information. They may not have known all the facts.

I had a birth record in my family that caused me a lost of distress. It happens to be for an Eva Gage who was born in 1886. She was my aunt and was my father's oldest sister. On the record it said that her parents were Jasper and Izora Gage. That is really nice and I should be real happy with that right. Wrong! That birth certificate destroyed my calm for months. Who in the heck was Izora? I knew that my grandparent's names were Jasper and Mandana. On my father's and his two other sisters the records all showed Jasper and Mandana as the parents.

Now my grandfather, Jasper, has always given me problems. To the best of my knowledge he was born in Lapeer Co., MI and moved to Lakeview which is in Montcalm Co. and never left there until the day he died. You can imagine my shock one day when I was in the courthouse in the neighboring county, Ionia, and I found a marriage record for a Jasper S. Gage and a woman who was not my grandmother NOR WAS SHE IZORA! Well that was quite a shock to my constitution but then I discovered my Jasper would have only been 13 at the time. I'm still working on the other Jasper. Pretty neat old guy, designed the Ionia county courthouse and was a Civil War veteran. I have never proved any relationship but I am sure that since he and my Jasper even share the same middle initial that they were related. But back to Izora. Since Eva was the oldest child it was possible she might have had a different mother. I searched all the records and could not find any record of a marriage. Everyone I talked to thought he had been married once to my Mandana who was usually referred to as "Dana". Finally I was able to talk with my 91 years old Aunt one month before she died. She said "oh didn't you know Mother's name was Izora but no one ever called her that." Every record that I have ever seen called my Grandmother Mandana. There was not one other living person who would have known that my Grandmother's first name was Izora. See why it is so important to talk to the relatives now!

Take time to go back and review all the copies of the vital records that you have in your possession. You might discover a clue that you overlooked before. You might also recognize the significance of a name on the document that you missed before because you weren't aware that they were connected to your family.

Use vital records to help fill in the stories of your ancestors. We want to make them come alive for our descendants.

Until next time :)

Shirley Hodges, biography & genealogy lectures; email:

Editor's Note: Shirley Hodges is the author of the popular Guide to United States Census, 1790-1930

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