Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lessons Learned Sunday: “Working” the South Carolina Death Records

My big genealogy project of late has been compiling as complete as possible a list of the descendants of my third-great-grandfather, Samuel Moore of Greenville, South Carolina. It is an ambitious undertaking, but the Moores are a primary research focus for me, and I hope this database can serve as a basis for future research to expand the line back in time. The work is certainly familiarizing me with South Carolina state resources as well as Greenville and Anderson County Resources. One of the best tools for working this line is a database that was added to Ancestry relatively recently, South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1955 (or at least the images of death certificates in that database are a new addition).

I stated previously that I would try to use “Lessons Learned Sunday” as a feature to write up what I learn from my mistakes in genealogy. So far I have not exactly had a “Duh!” experience with these records, but there definitely is a learning curve aspect in using them in combination with other tools to the best effect. Some of the other resources I am using are the “usual” Ancestry databases (censuses, etc.), the Greenville County Library System obituary index (an extremely useful and much appreciated tool) combined with a Greenville researcher who will copy and mail obituaries for a reasonable fee, Findagrave and Genweb cemetery listings for South Carolina, and several genealogies provided by other researchers for partial branches of this family.

My approach with the SC Death Records database has been not only to look up individual names (this is done automatically by Ancestry in a search localized for South Carolina), but to use the database separately, varying the items input for searching. Sometimes this means just putting a last name and a county (usually Greenville, but they didn’t always stay there). For the last name Moore, that brings up a lot of names. However, going through all of the hits paid off. The first hits to appear often have only the last name, and most of these are infants. Of course, I also wanted to find any children who died young, but none of these fit that bill. However, one of the death certificates had several items which fit Susan Moore Blakely – parents, dates of birth and death, and the informant was her son, James Moore Blakely. There was only one thing missing – her name! So the people indexing the certificates had simply put in the name of her father, (B. M.) Moore. Had I not looked at all these certificates, I would never have found her death certificate. I have also discovered that sometimes names are input backwards, so that may be a trick to try if I get desperate.

These death certificates can then be used to order copies of obituaries. The Greenville Library obituary index provides names and the date and page of the Greenville News on which the obituary appears. In the case of common names, knowing the date of death helps to narrow down which one is the correct obituary so that I don’t have to order all the obituaries with the name in which I am interested. I also use this obituary index in a similar manner, inputting only the last name or even an unusual first name to make sure that I get as many family members as possible. (Inputting a woman’s maiden name in the first name field will often pull up her obituary under her married name – a convenient way to find out who some of the daughters in a family married!) The obituaries I order based on what I find in this index then often provide additional names to be looked up in the South Carolina Death Records and Greenville Library obituary index, so there is a sort of circular aspect to this method.

Because I am constantly moving back and forth from database to database, I know that I am often missing things as I do this. Therefore, when I am “done”, I plan to go back over the obituaries and the death certificates (I have downloaded the images) and double-check all the information. It’s a lot of work, but the Moores are worth it!

Here is Susan Moore Blakely's death certificate - with no name:


  1. Greta, I'm very, very, grateful to you for the info you've provided in this post. My husband recently found a half-brother in Greenville whom he had never met. You can read about it here:
    As I do some research on his family, these resources will be very helpful!

  2. Becky - That is a fabulous story. And South Carolina is a dream state for research! The State Archives have tons of material online, the Greenville government and library sites have scads of stuff - actual scans of documents or at least really good indexes, and the obituary search index is fabulous. I'm just so glad I have ancestors there.

  3. Greta, this is a great detailed post about both the databases and the way you work your way through them. Thank you so much for sharing!
    Also, thank you for following my blog. Your blog is also very interesting and I will be following it as well :)

  4. Thank you for your kind comments, Ginger. I've enjoyed your blog, too (there is a comment on the Arkansas post); as a matter of fact, I was checking out how many geographic areas we have in common - quite a few southern areas plus Illinois (I don't have anyone in Indiana that I know of, though).

  5. Thank you for writing such an informative post about South Carolina records. Just in case you haven't already found this, large numbers of South Carolinians, including many Moore families, migrated into Misissippi when new lands were opened up for settlement after treaties were signed with the Choctaw Nation in the 1830s. Good luck in your research.

  6. Thank you for your kind comments, Janice. Most of my Moores (the ones descended from Samuel Moore of Greenville) stayed in SC up into the 20th century; my branch was one of the exceptions - they went to Texas in 1877. I just recently found another branch that went to Alabama in the 1850s. However, there is a group of Moores that I am interested in (some common first names and an association with a family that is associated with "my" Moores) - I believe this group did go to Mississippi. I am trying to find out if they are connected to the man I believe may have been Samuel Moore's brother.