Can I Correct a Death Certificate?

By Diane Haddad Premium

QMy great-grandmother’s death certificate gives her father’s name incorrectly, and the mother’s name is blank. The birth year is even different from what’s in her obituary and on her gravestone. I have proof of the correct names through my genealogy searches. How can I get this corrected, so that later generations would have the correct information?

A.There’s no way to change information on official records such as birth and death certificates, census records and passenger lists. The information on those documents is exactly what your ancestor reported and what the clerk (or whomever) heard—it’s part of the historical record. And who’s to say those other records you’ve found aren’t wrong? Our ancestors often spelled their own names differently at different times and didn’t always remember their own birthdays. Just note the different information—and what you believe to be “right”—in your genealogy software and on your research forms.

(Occasionally, indexers make mistakes when they look at records to create databases such those online at . You may be able to alert the index publisher about an error—look for a Contact Us or Frequently Asked Questions page.)

In answer to a question you haven’t asked, this may not be your great-grandmother’s death certificate. Just as it is today, it was common in our ancestors’ time for unrelated individuals to share a name, even in the same community. Without a correct parent’s name and with the wrong birth year, the certificate may not give enough information for you to safely assume it’s your great-grandmother’s. Look for death information in other sources, such as funeral records and newspaper obituaries, to confirm her death date and other details.