Friday, June 27, 2014


I am not going to ask you to understand why I needed a death certificate for my grandma's cousin, Blanche Stevens Thompson, who died in 1910.  Just accept that fact that for genealogists to learn about people in the family who have been long dead, it sometimes is necessary to get death certificates and/or obituaries.  This blog is about the funniest and most frustrating try for a simple death certificate that in 25 years of genealogy has happened to me.

In a nutshell, my great- grandma Nellie had a brother George Stevens just a tiny bit older that she was.   George married,  and Blanche, born in 1889, was his first child.  Blanche was my grandma Jessie's cousin. Down the road George moved to Oklahoma, and in my research I discovered that Blanche married in 1909.  In my research I also found a tombstone indicating she died in 1910, one year after she was married.  Why? I wondered.  In childbirth?  A disease?  Or maybe even murdered?  A death certificate might give me an answer, so I went online to find out what Oklahoma required to provide me a copy of her death certificate, if one existed.

I knew that such certificates were not always available that early, but the Oklahoma website said there actually were some as early as 1910.  I had to fill out a form, making sure I answered every question, and then send the completed form with a $15 research fee to the address at the top of the form.  I did exactly what they asked.  These instructions made it clear that the $15 was simply a research fee for their work in looking for a death certificate; if one wasn't found, they would not return the $15 to me.  I understood this, and was willing to risk losing the $15.

I sent the form and the check off on January 23, 2014.  The check was cashed on January 27, so I knew the form had arrived.

When no answer had come by the end of March, I sent a follow up request, nicely worded, simply noting that I was still anxiously awaiting word from them.

On April 23, I received a request from Oklahoma to provide documentation for my relationship to Blanche.  I opened my file cabinet to the "Stevens" file and photocopied my birth certificate showing my mother's name (Virginia), my mother's birth certificate showing her mother's name (Jessie), a delayed death certificate filed by my grandma Jessie showing her mother as Nellie, a Census report showing Nellie as belonging to the family of Chester and Ellen Stevens, and showing George as Nellie's older brother.  Then I photocopied a census report showing Blanche as a child of George.  These documents were among those specified as acceptable as proof by the State of Oklahoma. 

On June 16, almost two months after sending them all my documentation, I received a letter from Oklahoma saying NO birth certificate was found.

The end.

What can I say?  They did their part, just as they said they would; I did mine.  That it took almost 6 full months to hear "no" blows my mind!  Was I surprised? No.  Disappointed? Yes.  But that's all part of the genealogy game.

What I find hard to understand is this:  Did they not have an index anywhere that could have provided a "yes" or "no" in less time?  And preferably before I had to dig up and send copies of all my files?  I have bit my tongue every time I come close to saying something like, "Well, what do you expect from ........" No, I won't  say it.  Oklahoma has a bad enough rap as it is. 

And that is why I laugh.  In my own mind the whole thing is simply preposterous. There is a way of doing things, and a way NOT to do them.  But I consider that life is full of little quirks, and in genealogy we run into lots of "nos" - usually just a little bit faster, however, so I need to explore other ways to find an answer to why she died.  Poor Blanche.  Truly gone, but not forgotten!

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