Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Two Death Certificates: One Person

For the first time in my research, I have found two death certificates for the same person, filled out by two different people. As if the missing and inaccurate records aren’t enough to make me crazy, now this.

I was doing some research review and perusing the Tennessee Death Database when I found this death certificate for Miss Mary Ella Copeland:

Death Certificate 1

Mary’s parents migrated from Alabama to Tennessee, and I have never been able to find any document that states where in Alabama they came from. What struck me is that this death certificate listed “Tuscumbia, Alabama” as the birthplace for her parents. I thought, Now I know I have this death certificate already. Why didn’t I ever notice the town? Sure enough, when I pulled out the copy I had in my records, it only listed “North Alabama” for Mary’s parents:

Death Certificate 2

Both death certificates are indeed the same woman, my great grandmother’s sister Mary Ella Fendricks, who married Abe Copeland. Both list the same death date, February 9, 1930. However, one was completed by her husband, and one was completed by someone named James Casey, who I find associated with the family, but I’m unsure of his exact relation. One certificate lists the “Gant graveyard” as the burial place, while the other lists the “Savannah Colored Cemetery.”

They both illustrate the weaknesses inherent in so many records: the information is only as good as who gave it. They list different ages for Mary Ella. Her husband says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Sharard. James Casey says her parents were Mike Fendricks and Kate Suggs.    

Mary Ella’s mother’s name (according to marriage license and census records) was “Jane Eliza”. But so many records consistently state “Kate”, that I’m starting to believe that she was actually called Kate or Katie. Even my grandmother remembered that name. She died at a relatively young age and no record suggests another marriage for Mike Fendricks.

I wonder what circumstance would cause someone to have multiple death certificates? Have any of you seen this? Sometimes I think the ancestors just like to MESS with us!


  1. February 22, 2012    

    There’s a reason why one believe Kate’s maiden name was Sherard and another said Suggs. I had a similar situation. Not with two certificates for the same person, but I found certificates with varying maiden names. Actually, the two names ended up being a major clue to tracing the previous enslaver. I don’t know if you’ve read my article about that, but see http://www.mississippitoafrica.com/peggymilam.htm

    • msualumni's Gravatar msualumni
      February 23, 2012    

      Hi Melvin,
      You know I have read ALL your stuff! I should go and add to this post: the mother’s maiden name was actually Sherrill–close enough to Sherard. But also, the father was related to Suggs people and when he is older can be found living with the Suggs family. I suspect that’s the reason the Suggs name was remembered.

  2. February 23, 2012    

    This has happened to me in my research. I even blogged about it last week. “My great uncle Howell Brasfield has two death certificates. After looking at them again, I’m not sure they are for the same person. It’s just hard to believe that there were two black men named Howell Brasfield born in Tennessee and died within miles and a month of each other in the same year. But then the certificates has different birth dates, marital status and dates (and location) of death. They had different burial dates but was both buried in the small city of Maury City, Tennesee. (The cause of death was similar too.)

    While I was there (Tennessee) last year, I mentioned it to the archivists on staff. One was amazed at the possibility of two death certificates for one man, while another said it happened all the time.”

    I plan on going back to Tennessee this year and look at the original not just the copy on line. Taking a tip from Taneya Koonce, I’m going to look on the back of the certificate in hopes in might shed some light. And yes, it does make me wonder and imagine all sorts of reasons for the two certificates.

    • msualumni's Gravatar msualumni
      March 3, 2012    

      Thanks to all that responded to the post about two death certificates. Its one of those “flukes” that sometimes we benefit from!

  3. February 23, 2012    

    Yes, I have seen two death certificates for the same person. He had the same informant but one certificate gave a more detailed cause of death and the name of his wife. One gave his full name John Wesley Locks, and the other was Wesley Locks. I don’t understand why he had two death certificates. This was in Mississippi

  4. Rhonda Reid's Gravatar Rhonda Reid
    February 24, 2012    

    Hello George,

    I have come across two death certificates during my research for my great grandfather’s older brother Prophet Read. One has his name spelled Read the other is spelled Reed. The reason for the duplicate death certificate in his case was my great great grandfather Samson Read’s last name was entered as Gregory which was the last name of the Undertaker.

    Finding the two death certificates was a blessing for me, because on the first certificate the place of birth for Samson was illegible. On the second certificate it showed that he was from Georgetown, South Carolina which put one of my suspicions to rest. I always had a feeling he was not originally from Edisto Island.

  5. March 24, 2014    

    I found your site by googling “two death certificates.” I have a person of interest in our family who has two – one in oregon and one in washington. He lived very close to the border on the WA side and I can’t seem to figure out how this happened. I don’t actually have the certificates yet, I think I will have some trouble getting them from both states due to privacy laws.

  6. September 2, 2014    

    Hello All sometimes mistakes are made on a original death certificate that was filed and the state or county they died in issue another one , had it happen to me when my husband died, he has two death certificates to and his death was in CA.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

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Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh