Andrew Betts and His Two Wives Named Catherina/Catherine


My fourth great grandfather was Andrew Betts, born about 1755 and died in 1823. I have attended Betts family reunions in the past and we often visited his grave marker in the State Line (Betts) Cemetery near Jamestown, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. That gravestone states that his wife was Catherine Sherbondy. I recently received a message through messaging pointing out the error in the common belief that this Catherine was the mother of Andrew’s children, including my third great grandfather also named Andrew. I am sharing below the argument that Jeffrey Sherbondy, of the Sherbondy Family Association, makes that the mother of Andrew’s children was another Catherine, maiden name unknown. In his argument, he uses the given names Catherine and Catherina to refer to both women. Since receiving this message and evaluating his evidence, I have corrected my main family tree on to include two wives for Andrew Betts.

Here is the message from Jeffrey (with very slight editing):

Genealogical research is not an exact science. With old records (before 1900), there are often errors or irregularities. Many of those records were not created with the intention that they would be used over 200 years later. Standardization was not set up and accuracy was not monitored. For that reason, it is important when using old records that you do not rely on one source alone for your conclusions.

On the other hand, old records and records that were created, recorded, and/or transcribed at the time of the event are more reliable for genealogical evidence than records created later.

You must collect all of the information possible from the time period and the location and look at everything in its entirety (the “whole picture”). Each piece must be assembled and put together to see how everything fits together. One document or piece of evidence may then stand out as being inconsistent with the other documents. That document may have an error. Only then, after taking into consideration the date each record was created compared to the event and the consistency with other information, can you reach a proper conclusion.

One example of this is the birth date of Melcher Sherbondy per the census of 1850. Per his age of 86, his birth year would be 1764. However, according to the census of 1830, the census of 1840, and the church birth records, his birth year is known to be 1769 (Jan).

Now let’s look at Andrew Betts’ life.

Andrew Betts’ birth year is confirmed to be approximately 1755 according to a baptism record from 19 May 1771 and per the 1800 and 1810 census records. Some records show his birth to be 12 July 1755 but I have not seen a copy of that record. Also on the 1800 and the 1810 census is a female of the approximate (b 1756-1765) same age as Andrew. This would be Andrew’s FIRST wife. Andrew’s first wife’s name is first found in the birth and christening records of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These records for the birth of Christian and Emanual in 1779 and 1781 show the names of the parents as Andr. Bez and Catharina. This is the first evidence of Andrew’s first wife’s name. They had other children born from 1783 to 1797 and perhaps two who died young before and after these. Perhaps someone has more detailed church records for all of Andrew and Catharina’s children.

During the time that Andrew and Catharina’s children were born, Anna Catherina Cherpantier was born, daughter of Johann Cherpantier and Maria Catherina. She was born on 9 May 1784 and baptized on 6 June 1784 at Christ Church, Hamilton Square, Hamilton Township, Northampton County (now Monroe County), Pennsylvania. This proves conclusively that there were two Catherine’s during the time that Andrew’s children were born from 1777-1797.

In the 1800 and 1810 census records, there are females in different households that account for both of these Catherine’s. In the 1800 census for Andrew Betts, the female aged 26-44 is his first wife, Catharina. In the 1810 census for Andrew, the female over age 45 is also his first wife Catharina. At the same time, in the 1800 census for Melcher Sherbondy, the female aged 10-15 is Catherine Sherbondy, sister of Melcher. The census takers would have come near the beginning of the year, before May 1800, so her age would have been 15 at the time of the census. This year (1800) was only one year after the death of their father, John Sherbondy. Catherine and her brother, John, b. 1780, were living with their older brother Melcher at the time. All other family members of the Melcher household were accounted for in the 1800 census. In the 1810 census for Melcher Sherbondy, the female aged 16 to 25 is Catherine Sherbondy, sister of Melcher. Once, again, the census takers would have come near the beginning of the year, before May, 1810, so her age would have been 25 at the time of the census. All other family members of the Melcher household were accounted for in the 1810 census. This proves once again that there were two Catherine’s at the same time in 1800 and 1810.

Andrew’s first wife Catherine is not on any other records after the census of 1810. Andrew’s first wife Catherine must have died after 1810. In the Crawford County History, published in 1899, it states that Andrew Betts married “Miss Shibondi” in the “dawn of the century”. In the “dawn of the century,” would be after 1800, and since both Catherines are accounted for up to 1810, he must have married Catherine Sherbondy sometime around 1810-1815, and possibly as late as 1820. Catherine Sherbondy Betts is not shown on any documents until March 1820 when she signs a land sale with Andrew. She is also not on any documents after 1820 and some records show that she died in 1820.

Life was tough in Pennsylvania during this era. Catherine Sherbondy’s grandparents’ (Phillip and Eva Catherine Bossard) family was attacked and some killed by Indians in the 1750s. There was great reluctance to leave populated areas. If Andrew’s first wife died, he needed someone to help care for his children and she needed someone to provide her a living. This marriage may have been out of necessity.

In 1999, a memorial plaque was erected commemorating Andrew Betts and Catherine Sherbondy. This was approximately 245 years after the birth of Andrew’s first wife. It states Andrew Betts dates as 1755-1823. It also states Catherine Sherbondy Betts dates as 1755-1820. The donor, Ellis Royal Higgins, was not aware of the birth records for Anna Catherina Cherpantier from 1784 (found in 2006 and also was not aware of the two women accounted for on the census records of 1800 and 1810. The conclusion is that the memorial has two errors: 1) the birth date of Catherine Sherbondy is not 1755 and 2) Catherine Sherbondy Betts is not the mother of Andrew Betts’ children.

There may be key information that we will never know and, as is often the case, there may be undiscovered documents that turn up later with new information.

Please feel free to share this with other relatives.
Jeffrey D. Sherbondy
Sherbondy Family Association
Dec 2021

I Just Entered the Million-Dollar Lottery for Vaccinated Ohioans


I just signed up for Ohio’s Vax-A-Million lottery to promote vaccinations in the state. It was really quick and easy. Took about 3 min to fill in the required info. Now I will be eligible for one of five drawings for $1 million each in the coming weeks. If you live in Ohio, are vaccinated, and want to opt in to participate, go here:

Note: The signup website went live at 8 am Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The result of the first drawing will be announced May 26. The drawing actually will be held on May 24, allowing the Ohio Lottery Commission to confirm the eligibility of the winner.

More on eligibility: Permanent Ohio residents who are 18 years and older and have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine by the Sunday before the weekly Wednesday drawing are eligible to enter the lottery. The state determines permanent residency using the same requirements that it uses for issuing an Ohio driver’s license or eligibility to vote. The state also will check institution/pharmacy records to confirm the actual vaccinations.

I offer this selfie to show that I got my first Pfizer vaccination on January 27, 2021. I got the second vaccination on February 17.

Will I win a million bucks? Obviously I don’t know. But I will have five chances. The winners will be announced on May 26, June 2, June 9, June 16, and June 23.

A similar drawing will be held for “full-ride” funding for children 17 and under to attend a Ohio state university.

The Ohio Department of Health provides details in this announcement:

Vesanto, my grandparents home town in Finland, is 150 today


Vesanto residents celebrated the municipality's 150th birthday today: May 14, 2021. Vesanto became an independent municipality on May 14, 1871.

Due to the corona virus situation, a small group gathered at the municipal marina and beach by Lake Vesantojärvi for speeches, group singing, and a poetry reading by school children. In addition the event was streamed online to homes, cottages, and elsewhere for virtual viewing.

The celebration ceremony is available on Youtube. If you are interested, go to Sorry, the titles and audio all are in Finnish.

Thanks to my cousin Matti Kiiskinen for alerting me about this event held just hours ago in Finland. It just goes to show you what can be achieved by modern technology.

Another Youtube production prepared for the 150th celebration presents 150 snapshots from Vesanto over the years. It is set to a very nice stereo sound track. Here is this link:

I visited Vesanto in 1999 and in 2018. During the second visit, I was able to meet many cousins. It was a memorable time for me.

Having Fun with Green Screen in Zoom


In a former life, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I operated an audio-visual production company, As a result of that experience, I have been fascinated by the possibilities of using “green screen” technology (sometimes referred to as chroma key compositing) to achieve a composite video or photo. This technology makes it possible to put a subject (such as me in my Zoom casting) in front of a separate, even distant vista. The technology enables a weather person in a TV studio to stand in front of a giant weather map. The map actually is a computer graphic that is composited with the video of the weather person. Its all done by the studio software.

Today, I participated in a very educational genealogy meeting hosted on the Zoom platform by the Northeast Ohio Computer Assisted Genealogy group. The presenter was Rick Crume, contributing editor with Family Tree Magazine. His view incorporated a beach scene, even though he was Zoom casting from northwestern Minnesota.

I am proud of my use of the green screen feature in Zoom for this meeting. I put myself in front of a landscape photo taken in a birch forest in Finland. My paternal grandparents immigrated from Finland early in the 20th century and I did a heritage tour there in 2018. The view I used was very representative of what I saw moving from one city to another during that trip. It also reminded me of the landscape in Michigan’s upper peninsula during my trips there to attend FinnFest USA.

To be able to share the result more broadly, I also learned how — this afternoon — to take a screen shot of my Zoom image and save it to my PC. Here is is:

I participate in Zoom meeting from my computer room, which I must admit looks rather cluttered. As a background my computer room is not as nice as the backgrounds we see remote broadcasts today: nicely arranged kitchens, living rooms, or libraries. With the green screen technology built into Zoom, I avoid the appearance of being disorganized.

I am using the free personal version of Zoom. It permits me to experiment with the platform’s features. And I can even host small meetings of my own.

World Pandemic Declared 1 Year Ago Today


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 coronavirus had reached world pandemic levels. Soon every thing in the United States was shut down.

Two days before that I drove out to Fairport Harbor in Lake County to give an in-person presentation entitled “Where’s Otto: How the Internet Helped Track Down 10 Members of an Immigrant Family.” My subject was the Nikkari family that immigrated from Finland in four voyages over 15 months in 1903 and 1904. I was speaking to about 40 Finnish-Americans at the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor. There were some comments among the attendees about the outbreak of this mysterious disease. As it turned out, there hasn’t been a monthly meeting of the Heritage Museum membership since then.

That event enables me to remember the date precisely when the pandemic shut everything down.

Another memorable event was being able to get appointments for my vaccine shots. Ohio residents of 80+ years of age qualified for vaccinations beginning on January 19, 2021. On the following Monday I was notified by the Cleveland Clinic that I qualified for a Covid 19 vaccination. I immediately signed up for an appointment for January 27.

I had to drive 30 miles to the Medina Hospital in the Cleveland Clinic system, one of the few Clinic facilities that I had not visited before. Between my health appointments and services, and those for my late wife, M.J., we had visited most of the Clinic facilities in Northeast Ohio.

Once at the hospital, I found everything well organized and I moved quickly through the process. With check-in, the actual vaccination, a 15-min timed wait to make sure there was no adverse reaction, and time spent scheduling the second vaccination, it only took about 45 minutes.

That week’s vaccination program was a continuation for Group 1b in Ohio, including health care workers and people over 80 years of age, which as I mentioned actually began a week before.

Here I am in a selfie with my mask and my vaccination record card.

I got my second shot of the Pfiser vaccine on February 17 at the same Medina hospital.

I consider myself lucky. I have not felt the effects of the pandemic personally, although I do know a few people who have had Covid 19 and recovered.

That is in drastic contrast to the almost 30 million confirmed cases of Covid 19 that have occurred in the United States — and the over 532,000 deaths.

My daughter is a teacher in New York state and she has been vaccinated. We are waiting for my son to be notified that he can schedule an appointment since people over 50 are now eligible to be vaccinated in Ohio.

I think back to my maternal grandfather who died in the spring of 1920 at the age of 39 after a prolonged illness. The cause of death on his death certificate was “unknown” because the pronouncing physician hadn’t treated him. But it may have been that he was a late victim of the Flu Pandemic of 1918. I’ll report on his circumstances in another post.

What Do Those Numbers Mean in Census Records?


One thing leads to another in genealogy.

I was researching an uncle (by marriage), Waino Aleksanteri Seppelin, who came to this country from Finland in 1910 and very shortly got a job as a laborer in a steel mill in Warren, Trumbull, Ohio, USA.

Waino eventually worked into the better-paying job of “heater.” His census entries in 1920, 1930, and 1940 listed that he performed that job in a steel mill. Under the occupation columns for these three censuses, there were code numbers penciled in for Waino. What did they mean?

It was time for some searching on Google. I entered “definition of occupation of heater in steel mill” in the search window and found results for all three censuses. Not surprising, each of the entries had its origins in the U. S. Census Bureau.

The 1940 resource that I found was a PDF of a booklet entitled Occupation and Industry Classifications and Instructions for Using the Occupation Index. I found it here. I scrolled through the pages to find the number code 446 29 that was penciled in next to Waino’s occupation. Sure enough, there was the occupation “Heaters, Metal.”

The 1930 resource that I found was another PDF entitled 1930 Census: Alphabetical index of occupations. I found it here. In this case, I looked for the code 1724 that was penciled in Waino’s census entry. That was a reference to the occupation of Heater in various types of metal mills, including rod mill, rolling mill, sheet mill, soaking pit, and tube mill. Since I knew that Waino worked at mills making sheets from thicker steel forms, I concluded that the reference to sheet mill was the most appropriate.

Going back to the 1920 census, the coding was less sophisticated. My Google search led me to the website for IPUMS USA with a page entitled “1920 Occupation Codes.” The home page explained “IPUMS USA collects, preserves and harmonizes U.S. census microdata and provides easy access to this data with enhanced documentation. Data includes decennial censuses from 1790 to 2010 and American Community Surveys (ACS) from 2000 to the present.” It sounds like IPUMS might be useful in other genealogical research situations.

In this case, the occupation code penciled in on Waino’s census entry was simply 182. It was included under a heading of “Furnace Men, Smelter Men, Heaters, Pourers, etc.:” the entry “Heaters.”
I had to dredge up some of the knowledge I gained from my college education and from my professional experience as the editor of Metalproducing magazine (Also known as 33 Metal Producing, now defunct and available only in libraries. Check WorldCat for availability) to remember that a heater was the guy who was replacing slabs of steel in a heating furnace to bring them up to the required temperature for rolling into thinner cross-sections that became sheet steel.

MyHeritage to be Acquired by Private Equity Firm Francisco Partners


I am a subscriber to, a genealogical database provider that has helped me connect with cousins in Finland, from which my paternal grandparents emigrated to America in 1902 and 1903. I am a subscriber because MyHeritage, which is based in Israel, has aggressively marketed its services in Europe, including Finland.

Yesterday (24 Feb 2021), Business Wire carried the announcement that MyHeritage is being acquired by a private equity firm in San Francisco, CA. The announcement issued jointly by MyHeritage and Francisco Partners follows:

TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah & SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–MyHeritage, the leading global service for discovering your past and empowering your future, announced today that Francisco Partners, a leading global investment firm that specializes in partnering with technology businesses, has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the company. The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“We are looking forward to partnering with Gilad and the entire MyHeritage team to help drive market expansion for the company.”

Since 2003, MyHeritage has pioneered a new approach to discovering family history, making it easier and more accessible to millions of people around the world. Founder-led and fueled by a deep-seated passion for genealogy and a commitment to innovation, MyHeritage has built a successful, subscription-based global enterprise. Powered by unique and proprietary technologies, the MyHeritage platform is currently used by 62 million users worldwide and is available in 42 languages, which is a testament to the company’s international reach and diverse user base. MyHeritage users have collectively created more than 58 million family trees.

Making History

MyHeritage has invested heavily in developing technologies designed to help users make breakthrough discoveries in their family history research. The company amassed an extensive database of 13 billion historical records, including exclusive collections from many countries. The platform’s many features include world-class tools for colorizing and enhancing historical photos that are based on artificial intelligence.

“When I founded the company from my home eighteen years ago, I had a clear vision that drove me, and continues to drive me today – to make family history discovery easier using technology and to unlock the fun in genealogy: the human pursuit that bonds people,” said Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “With the help of an excellent and dedicated team, years of hard work, and with constant technological innovation, we created new and exciting ways for people to learn about their origins. In Francisco Partners we see a true partner for our journey ahead, not only demonstrated by the trust they are placing in our company through this acquisition, but in their desire for us to remain true to our vision by continuing along our path and helping us do what we do best – putting our users first and giving them life-enriching, and sometimes life-changing, experiences. This move will enable us to reach new heights, invest more resources in creating greater value for our users and to reach a larger audience. We’re incredibly excited for this next chapter in our company’s evolution.”

“By leveraging our operational expertise, market resources and strong industry networks, we believe Francisco Partners is uniquely positioned to help MyHeritage accelerate its vision for growth. We are deeply impressed by the incredible achievements and relentless determination of Gilad, a visionary leader in genealogy who has grown the company from a start-up to a profitable global market leader,” said Eran Gorev, Francisco Partners‘ President of Israel & Senior Operating Partner, who will join the MyHeritage board of directors upon the closing of the transaction. “We are looking forward to partnering with Gilad and the entire MyHeritage team to help drive market expansion for the company.”

“With its unmatched presence across Europe combined with its development of unique, cutting-edge technologies, MyHeritage is an ideal investment for Francisco Partners. The company has proven itself to be an innovation powerhouse through its robust subscription business, unique positioning, advanced technology portfolio, and international focus that has enabled it to build a superior user experience,” said Matt Spetzler, Co-Head of Europe and Partner at Francisco Partners, who will also join the MyHeritage board upon closing. “Francisco Partners shares MyHeritage’s vision for growth as well as its intense commitment to ensuring the privacy of its users. The users’ personal data is an extremely important priority and we will work together with MyHeritage to expand its already strong privacy framework going forward.”

Since its inception, MyHeritage has raised $49 million in 5 rounds of financing, the last of which took place in 2012, after which the company turned profitable. The company’s investors have included private investors Yuval Rakavy and Aviv Raiz, who invested in the company in 2005 and have continued to support it ever since, as well as Accel, Index Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners. With their support, the company accelerated its growth and completed 11 strategic acquisitions.

Some of the company’s current investors will be re-investing into the company alongside Francisco Partners, including HP Beteiligungs GmbH, Yuval Rakavy, the company’s founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, and independent investor Gigi Levy.

Doing Good

MyHeritage is a company that not only believes in doing well, but also in doing good, and seeks opportunities to use its tools and services to leave a profound positive impact on the world. Its pro bono initiatives include DNA Quest, a program that helps adoptees reunite with their biological families by providing thousands of free DNA tests to select applicants, and Tribal Quest, an initiative that helps to document the family histories and cultural heritage of remote tribes around the world. In addition, with the onset of the coronavirus in 2020, MyHeritage established a COVID-19 testing lab in Israel in an effort to save lives and help Israel fight the pandemic.

Committing to Lead in Privacy

MyHeritage takes a best-in-class approach to user privacy and does not sell or license personal data. Under MyHeritage’s partnership with Francisco Partners, this commitment will be further strengthened and users will benefit from enhancements to the company’s privacy framework. As a first step in this strategy, MyHeritage will shortly update its privacy policy to include the unequivocal prohibition for the company to license or sell genetic data to any 3rd party. These updates will be highly unique amongst the larger genealogy and genetic DNA industry and are a testament to the commitment both MyHeritage and Francisco Partners share to privacy and consumers.

Goldfarb Seligman acted as legal advisor and J.P. Morgan acted as exclusive financial advisor to MyHeritage on the transaction. Meitar and Fried Frank advised Francisco Partners. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory review.

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the leading global discovery platform for exploring family history. With billions of historical records and family tree profiles, and with sophisticated matching technologies that work across all its assets, MyHeritage allows users to discover their past and empower their future. MyHeritage DNA is one of the world’s largest consumer DNA databases, with 4.8 million customers. MyHeritage is the most popular DNA test and family history service in Europe. Since 2020, MyHeritage has also been home to some of the world’s best AI technologies for enhancing and colorizing historical photos. 

About Francisco Partners

Francisco Partners is a leading global investment firm that specializes in partnering with technology and technology-enabled businesses. Since its launch over 20 years ago, Francisco Partners has invested in more than 300 technology companies, making it one of the most active and longstanding investors in the technology industry. With more than $25 billion in assets under management, the firm invests in opportunities where its deep sectoral knowledge and operational expertise can help companies realize their full potential. For more information on Francisco Partners, please visit

Genealogical Crime Mysteries – A New Genre


I have been involved in genealogical research for about 25 years. For the last half dozen years, I have been using DNA testing to find relatives. I also enjoy reading detective novels.

When I set out to write this review of The Chester Creek Murders, by Nathan Dylan Goodwin, I discovered that there is a Facebook Group called the Genealogical Crime Mystery Book Club. Goodwin is one of the founding members. More about that later.

I had read several of Goodwin’s previous books featuring Morton Farrier, a British genealogical researcher in The Forensic Genealogist Series.

Now he has kicked off a new series called the Venator Cold Case series, with The Chester Creek Murders as book No. 1. Here is the official blurb that introduces this just-published book:

“When Detective Clayton Tyler is tasked with reviewing the formidable archives of unsolved homicides in his police department’s vaults, he settles on one particular cold case from the 1980s: The Chester Creek Murders. Three young women were brutally murdered—their bodies dumped in Chester Creek, Delaware County—by a serial killer who has confounded a slew of detectives and evaded capture for over thirty-eight years.

“With no new leads or information at his disposal, the detective contacts Venator for help, a company that uses cutting-edge investigative genetic genealogy to profile perpetrators solely from DNA evidence.

“Taking on the case, Madison Scott-Barnhart and her small team at Venator must use their forensic genealogical expertise to attempt finally to bring the serial killer to justice. Madison, meanwhile, has to weigh professional and personal issues carefully, including the looming five-year anniversary of her husband’s disappearance.”

Venator operates out of an office just down the street from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. As you might imagine, Maddy and her staff pay visits to the Library in the course of working on their cold case projects.

Detective Tyler brings to them a DNA profile collected from the three cold cases. There is no match in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), so the Venator team has to match the DNA results to DNA profiles available on AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and Gedmatch to find possible matches. Then they build family trees from the matches to find common ancestors and add descendants from these common ancestors.

The book offers insights into forensic/genetic genealogy practices. The Venator staff use to conduct searches and refer to the FamilySearch Wiki to learn what records are available for different localities around the country. They check several sources to build profiles of the people in the family trees they are building, such as social media,,,, and even microfilm at the FHL.

Finally, they determine who was in the locations in southeastern Pennsylvania at the time of the murders. All this work pays off when they identify a likely perpetrator and Detective Tyler is able to find conclusive evidence during a home search and make the arrest.

I read The Chester Creek Murders over a two-day period. And I am looking forward to Goodwin’s next book in this series. He suggests some questions involving the staff at Venator that could be answered in the next book and hints at cases to come.

In addition to Goodwin, the FB Group features authors MJ Lee, Stephen Molyneux, and Wendy Percival. The group aims to promote the growing genre of genealogical crime mystery books and to encourage general discussion around the books, stories, and their authors. It is free to join if you are interested.

My Genealogy Beginnings Happened in Salt Lake City


Nearly 25 years ago, I was on a business trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. At the end of the day’s scheduled activities, my business colleague announced that he wanted to visit the LDS Family History Library ( to do some research. Since I had nothing planned for the evening, I decided to tag along.

Shortly after we arrived at the library, we found our way to a bank of computers that were dedicated to searching the International Genealogical Index. While my friend quickly launched his search for ancestors, I slowly figured out how to navigate the search program. I decided to see if I could find any information about my grandparents who emigrated from Finland in the early 1900s. I found people with the Huuskonen (original spelling) surname, but wasn’t having much luck finding any given names I recognized. Just as I was about to give up the idea of finding my Finnish ancestors, the public address system came alive with an announcement that there would be a one-hour seminar on Finnish genealogy at 8 p.m. I immediately told my friend that I had to take advantage of this opportunity.

I attended the seminar with about a dozen other researchers. The seminar presenter explained how christenings, marriages, and deaths were recorded by the Lutheran Church in Finland. She said that once you learned the home parish of a Finnish immigrant, you very likely would be able to obtain his or her records. She made the case for using the LDS microfilm collection and for writing to the parish records clerk directly for genealogical information. For those of us in the seminar who spoke no Finnish, she provided a list of key words that apply to genealogical records. In short, she made a strong case for anybody being able to research their Finnish roots even when they didn’t speak or read the language.

When I returned home, I contacted my brother Walfrid to tell him about my experience. It turned out he had recently attended a national gathering of Finnish-Americans called FinnFest in Portland, OR. There, he had obtained the passport and passenger records for our grandparents and three aunts and an uncle.

He also forwarded to me a copy of a crude ancestor chart that my mother had drawn for him detailing her ancestors back to the early 1800s.

To learn how to expand on this basic information from both sides of our family, I purchased Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy, by Emily Anne Croom. A little later, in the search for more knowledge about “doing genealogy,” I joined Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society and the Ohio Genealogical Society.

To learn more about doing Finnish genealogical research, I acquired the book Finnish Genealogy Research by Timothy Laitila Vincent and Rick Tapio. It gave me valuable information about Finnish church parishes and their records. Walfrid and I teamed up to write letters to a couple of parish records offices for information about ancestors. We made donations to the churches in return for the reports they sent us.

In the years since, genealogy has become my No. 1 avocation. And I have learned much about my ancestry, and met many cousins and other friendly, helpful people, both in person and through the Internet.

Since my introduction to genealogy, I have made two trips to Finland. One was on behalf of my employer at the time, Metalproducing magazine (now defunct), to attend the 1996 annual meeting of the International Iron and Steel Industry Association (now hosted by the Finnish steel industry. The second was in 2018 for FinnFest in Tampere, Finland. On that trip, I was able to meet up with cousins who made me feel very welcome and showed me sites where my ancestors had lived. FinnFest USA maintains a website

In addition to the 2018 FinnFest in Finland, I have attended several other FinnFests at various sites around the country: 2005, (Marquette, MI, with my brother), 2007 (in Ashtabula, Ohio, where we had a Huskonen family reunion), 2013 (Houghton, MI), 2017 (Minneapolis, MN), and 2019, Detroit, MI.

It all began with a spur-of-the-moment visit to what many would consider the Mecca of genealogy: the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Note: I am posting this as my first article in the challenge “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” by Amy Johnson Crow. Yes, that’s right, I’m aiming to write 52 articles about myself and my ancestors throughout 2021. If you are interested in taking up Amy’s challenge, you can get information by going here:

Collecting Death Certificates–Payoffs and Pitfalls


Who, what, where and when are key questions that are answered by genealogical records. In the following discussion, we are adding two more questions: why and how.

Who to collect death certificates for:

● Direct ancestors are a top priority.

● Ancillary ancestors are a second priority.

● Obtaining death certificates is becoming more costly. You probably will have to be selective.

What are death records?

● The event in question is a person’s death.

● A death certificate officially documents a person’s death.

● It is recorded by a health department in a local jurisdiction

● Most states required preparing a death certificate beginning early in the 20th century.

● Before death certificates, death records document a person’s death but contain less information.


● You should know where the death occurred.

● Most death certificates are recorded at the county level.

● Some jurisdictions, such as cities, also have agencies that perform recording of death certificates


● This is one of the questions that can be answered by a death certificate

● You can obtain a death certificate within days of a death today

● In Ohio, after 1867, a death record may exist.

● After 1908, there should be a certificate.

● Dates for other states vary.

Why collect death certificates?

● You can gain information about the following from death certificates:

  • Legal name (first, middle and last).
  • Sex.
  • Age.
  • Race.
  • Social Security Number.
  • Date and place of death.
  • Date and place of birth.
  • Most up-to-date address (state, county, city, street address and zip code).
  • Marital status at the time of death.
  • Surviving spouse’s name if applicable (note, if surviving spouse is a wife, the maiden name must be provided).
  • Family history (mother and father’s names, mother’s maiden name).
  • Occupation and type of industry in which the deceased worked.
  • Family history (mother and father’s names, mother’s maiden name).
  • Military involvement (branch, type of discharge, dates served) or copy of DD214.
  • Name of doctor.
  • Informant name, relationship, and address.

● A death certificate may be required for heritage or lineage society applications.

How to find and acquire death certificates includes a couple of steps:

● Check for On-Line death indexes.

Check for available indexes.

Search on

Search on

● Start by searching for decedents in indexes.

● Then write or visit state or local health departments or vital statistics departments. When writing, use an official request form if possible. Check for one on-line.

● If you don’t have an official form, provide decedent’s complete name, and as much other information as possible. Remember, searches cost extra. is a resource for ordering death and other vital records online.


● Death certificates contain much primary and secondary information

● Primary information, such as date of death and burial, should be accurate.

● You may learn information that adds to what you already know, e.g. an immigrant’s home town, or his or her parents’ names.

● Collecting death certificates may be important for constructing a family health history.

● Consult Cyndi’s List for medical dictionaries —


● Some information on a death certificate—especially secondary information—may not be accurate or correct.

● Secondary information includes birth details, names of parents.

● Secondary information should be confirmed with other sources whenever possible.

● In some cases, the informant will state: “Don’t know.”

Causes of Death

● Entered by physician or other medical person.

● In case of accident or crime, a coroner may enter the cause of death

● Some death certificate images have numbers hand-written on them

● These are IDC codes for compiling causes of death by disease

Researching IDC Code Numbers

● Go to the following URL for a table of IDC code numbers

then click on the link for the most relevant Code Revision.

Other Resources

How to Find Ohio Death Records Wiki

Detailed discussion of death certificate resources on FamilySearch and other repositories

Death Certificates in Cuyahoga County

Cleveland Department of Public Health

75 Erieview Plaza, Cleveland, OH 44114

Phone: 216 664-2324

Death Certificates in Ohio
Ohio Department of Health
Center for Vital and Health Statistics
246 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: 614-466-2531

Ohio Death Index

Ohio Department of Health Death Certificates, 1913-1944, 1954-1963

Ohio History Connection
800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43211-2474

Phone: 614.297.2300

How to Fill Out a Death Certificate in Ohio

Busch Funeral and Crematory Services


Phone: 1-800-252-8724