Saturday, April 01, 2006

Missouri 1910-1955 death index online soon

In August of 2004, legislation went into effect stating that the Missouri Department of Health was to transfer death certificates at least 50 years old to the State Archives. The Archives then announced that they would make the information on those records more accessible by creating an online index linked to scans of the certificates. This was called the Missouri Post-1910 Death Records Project. It was recently announced to volunteers that the index is scheduled to go online soon.

Researchers can also benefit from this project by obtaining photocopies for just $1, saving $12 per copy -- the Dept. of Health's fee had risen from $10 to $13 in recent years. The Archives makes getting copies very easy; just email them a name, date of death and the county in which the person died. You will then receive an emailed response with ordering instructions. (Only submit one name at a time by email, and don't request another record until you have received a copy in the mail. Be patient. It may take a few weeks to complete the ordering cycle. If need to get several different copies, you'll have to visit the Archives in person, where you can request ten at a time.)

Volunteers were sent a packet of pages from the old printed index and then set about entering the details into a spreadsheet. Each entry had up to fourteen different details, though most had just nine or ten: page number, last name, first name, middle initial, file number, month, day, year, county and sometimes the city. Prefix, suffix and alias name were fields rarely used. Transcribers could also enter notes in the last field. My packet was approximately 70 pages with 3687 entries. In all, 598 volunteers transcribed over two million names covering 1910 to 1955.

It remains to be seen how many of the certificates have been scanned so far, but a searchable index will be more than enough to help Missouri researchers. And a less obvious benefit to the database may be that some entries in the index, which were previously listed out of order, will now easily be found. While working on my packet of papers, I noticed a few entries that were one or two pages out of place alphabetically. I know that the Dept. of Health would search a five-year span for a record, but would they also check multiple pages of the printed index, too? If that didn't happen, then this may help in some cases. I have one test case in mind: James HEATON's 1919 certificate was not found.

I could go on and on describing how useful this index will be once it goes online. I have used the Illinois State Archives' death and marriage indexes too many times to count and Illinois is my second state in terms of ancestors and collateral lines. Missouri is where the bulk of my research takes place, so I'm going to be using this site a lot to track down leads that the Social Security Death Index, published cemetery indexes, and the few obituaries that have been indexed don't cover. My primary benefit will be searching for collateral individuals. Finding out when those people died will then open up numerous other research opportunities.

An event at the St. Louis County Library's Main Branch (1640 South Lindbergh Blvd., just south of Clayton Road and across from Plaza Frontenac) is scheduled for April 6th, the day the project opens to the public. A reception and brunch is scheduled the next day in Jefferson City.

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