Strict privacy laws, designed to protect both the living and the dead from having their identities stolen, can create some serious problems for a genealogist. Some states permit the acquisition of birth, marriage, or death records when the individuals named in those records have been dead for 50 years, or 100 years after the event was recorded. Other states allow only immediate family members to have access to birth, marriage, or death records. When you need the information contained in a vital record but are denied access to that record, what can you do?
Recently a client asked us to help him locate the burial place of a favorite teacher from elementary school. He hoped to place flowers on her grave when he next visited his hometown.
The client was able to provide her date of death in 1964, and indicated that her last place of residence was in Missouri. He had contacted the State of Missouri in an effort to acquire her death certificate, which would include the place of her burial. However, due to privacy laws, he was unable to secure this important document. The client asked that the office of vital records simply provide him with her place of burial, but he was again rebuffed. He even went so far as to write to the governor of the state, seeking his intervention, but to no avail. So he turned to us and asked if we could help.
Sometimes the most straightforward searches are the best ones, so we began with a search of Findagrave.com, a free, volunteer-powered database with over 120 million memorial pages from around the world. We searched for the teacher and discovered seven women with the same full name in their database. Unfortunately, of the two who died in 1964, one was buried in Australia and the other was buried more than 800 miles away in Ohio.
Next we turned to newspapers. Obituaries can provide a wealth of information regarding the deceased, including where they were buried. Because we knew not only the teacher’s name but also the year of her death and the state in which she lived, we were able to narrow our search to Missouri newspapers between January of 1964 and January of 1965.
Fortunately for us, this teacher was a well-known educator and her obituary was printed on the front page of one of the newspapers we searched. In addition to facts about her life, the obituary reported that she was cremated in Kansas City prior to her interment in the Olive Branch Cemetery in Harrisville, Ohio. Harrisville was her hometown, and that Ohio burial we had found on FindaGrave.com turned out to be the right one after all.
So, the next time that your request for a vital record is denied, try using the newspaper’s obituaries, birth notices, marriage announcements, or even society pages to discover the facts you seek.