52 Documents in 52 Weeks #5 – George A. Repsher’s Death Certificate

George and Anna Repsher

George and Anna Repsher

Person of Interest: George Arthur Repsher from Pennsylvania, then of Sussex County, New Jersey
Relationship: Great grandfather


Source Citation: New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services, Death Certificate, death certificate no. 597 (penned), George Arthur Repsher (1936).


Document Description: This is a non-certified copy of the death certificate of George Arthur Repsher issued to me on 20 January 2015. It is labeled a “Vital Records Abstract Certification.” It is a copy of an older death certificate with one major difference. The cause of death section has been redacted and covered with a big white square box that contains the words  “Redacted as per N.J.A.C. 8:2A-2.1.” None of the original cause of death can be seen. There is red, block overprinting stating, “Issued for Information Purposes Only. Not to be Used for Identification or Legal Purposes.”


death-certificate-for-george-repsherDocument Scan and Transcription:
Item 01: Place of death is Sussex County, borough of Stanhope, State of New Jersey. A handwritten “597” is in this box but on no particular line.
Item 02: Full Name is George Arthur Repsher.
Item 03: Length of residence in city or town where death occurred is 6 months.
Item 04: Sex is male.
Item 05: Color or race is white.
Item 06: Marital status is married.
Item 07: Wife’s name is Anna Karthaeuser.
Item 08: Date of birth is October 2, 1890.
Item 09: Age is 58 years, 5 months, and 28 days.
Item 10: Occupation is Steam Shovel Engineer.
Item 11: Birth place is Mountain Home, Penna.
Item 12: Father’s name is John J. Repsher.
Item 13: Father’s birthplace is Pennsylvania.
Item 14: Mother’s maiden name is Caroline Bonser.
Item 13a: Mother’s birthplace is Pennsylvania.
Item 15: Signature of informant is typed in as Mrs. Anna Repsher of Stanhope, N.J.
Item 16: Received on Mar 31, 1936 by Frank Stackhouse, local registrar.
Item 17: Date of death is March 30, 1936.
Item 18: James J. FitzGerald. M.D., of Stanhope, N.J., certifies that he attended the deceased from Mar 1930 and last saw him alive on Mar 30, 1936.
Item 19: Cause of death is redacted as per N.J.A.C. 8:2A-2.1.
Item 20: Place of burial is Stanhope.
Item 21: Undertaker is N.J. License No. 735, Geo. R. Shaw in Stanhope, N.J.


Analysis: From this death certificate, we can put together a short biography of George Arthur Repsher.

“George Arthur Repsher was born on 02 October 1890 in Mountain Home, Pennsylvania, to parents John J. Repsher and Caroline Bonser, both of whom were born in Pennsylvania. He was a white male married to Anna Karthaeuser and worked as a steam shovel engineer. He died on 30 March 1936 at the age of 58 years, 5 months, and 28 days. George died in the borough of Stanhope, Sussex County, New Jersey, were he had resided for 6 months prior to his death. His physician, James J. Fitzgerald, MD, attended him from March 1930 until George’s death in 1936. George was buried in Stanhope by undertaker Geo. R. Shaw and his death was recorded on 31 March 1936 by local registrar Frank Stackhouse.”

redaction001

Language of N.J.A.C. 8:2A-2.1

This particular source is a deriviative record since it obviously has been manipulated with the big redaction box and overprinting applied. Let’s talk about that redaction first. I was quite peeved when I opened the envelope and saw that big ol’ white box covering the cause of death section. What the heck is this?

Genealogy isn’t only the finding of records, it’s the understanding of how and why were created under the laws of the times. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, even specializes in connecting the laws to genealogy. According to the New Jersey law cited in the redaction box, under the 8:2A – 2.1 section A3(iv), I did not prove or identify that I was “the subject’s child, grandchild [and by extension great grandchild], or sibling, if of legal age.” Therefore, the law stated that I was not eligible to know what a man, who passed away 80 year ago, died of. Seems a bit like overkill, but okay, I didn’t do what I needed to do when I sent the request in. And, since I’m just getting around to researching why it was redacted a year after I was sent the record, I might end up having to pony up some more bucks to get the non-redacted version. Procrastination and lessons learned in genealogy can be expensive!

It helps to know where records are stored and who was required to keep them. New Jersey didn’t require a formal record of birth, marriages, or deaths until 1848. When they did, the local registrar was responsible for keeping those records. However, some older records may have been transferred to archives. My favorite website to find out where you should write to get records is the Center for Disease Control. Wait, the CDC? Why them? It does make sense if you think about it. They are responsible for the public health of the nation and birth/death/marriage records fall squarely within that realm. Their website lists each of the individual states and has brief descriptions on what types of records can be found where and hyperlinks to state specific sites. New Jersey is found here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/new_jersey.htm.

Also, it’s interesting to see the progression of the format of death records over the years. Let’s take a quick look at some New Jersey death certificates I have in my collection:

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-10-31-58-am

1892 Death[1]

death-certificate-for-george-repsher

1936 Death[2]

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-10-31-28-am

2010 Death – Full record and certified[3]

death-certificate-for-lorraine-strait-redacted

2015 Death – Abstracted and non-certified[4]

The two modern records highlight the variations in information that can be found on a certified, full copy vs. an abstracted copy. The 2010 record is my grandmother, Beatrice I. Guirreri. I paid for a certified complete copy of this certificate which meant that I jumped through all the hoops required to get a non-redacted copy. The 2015 record is my stepmother, Lorraine. My dad sent me this copy (free for me…) and you can see the difference in the amount of information contained within it. Looks very sparse, even sparser since I erased her SSN for identity theft protection. You’ll notice that the “void” protection built into the document is evident because it’s been scanned/copied. Since my dad and Lorraine didn’t have any children together (no half siblings there), the limited information on this satisfies my family tree needs. The a-type personality wants all the same information for Lorraine that I have for Beatrice but the checkbook says, “That’s more than enough!” 

Now to the types of information found on George’s death certificate. We’ve already determined this is a derivative record. The information found on it is mixed. Information can be of three types: primary, secondary, or undetermined. The primary (firsthand) information comes from the doctor about George Arthur Repsher’s death. Dr. Fitzgerald certifies that he examined George and determined that he was “not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead” to steal a phrase from the Wizard of Oz. The date of death is verified and recorded very close to George’s death day and is the highest quality information found on the document. Expected for certificate related to death. The recording date is verified by the local registrar and, again, happens close to George’s death day which makes it reliable. And I trust that George was buried in Stanhope since the undertaker certifies that he buried George there. Again, fairly reliable.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-5-02-26-pmThe secondary information on this document relates to George’s birth date, place and parents. We need to look at the informant to see if we can determine how reliable this data is. In this case, Mrs. Anna Repsher of Stanhope, which was the same as George’s last residence, is the person supplying the information. She may be the same Anna listed as wife Anna Karthaeuser and most likely is George’s wife. (Other sources tell me for sure this informant was indeed his wife.) How Anna knows George’s birthplace, date, and parents’ information is definitely secondhand. It is extremely unlikely that his wife witnessed his birth. George may have told her, she might have met his parents who told her, or his siblings could have told her. All of it would be hearsay, secondhand, and/or subject to errors. There’s no way to know for sure. Which means I can add this information about George to his family tree profile but I need to find another source to corroborate his birthdate, birthplace and parents. In this particular document, I weigh the reliability of this birth date to be less than the reliability of his death date.

There is a lot of great, direct (explicit) evidence found in this document. We learn George’s exact death date along with George’s exact birthdate, his birthplace, and his parents’ names. The evidence directly answers the research questions, “When and where did George, of Stanhope, New Jersey, die? When and where was he born? Who were his parents? What was his wife’s maiden name?” Some nice direct answers.

However, the analysis of this evidence does not happen in a vacuum. Given that George’s birth information is likely secondhand, we need to find other information to compare it to, his birth certificate, a registrar’s record, a sworn statement from his mother or father… Also, an obituary printed in a newspaper close to his death date, a funeral home memory card, or death notice would foster confidence in his death information.

CONCLUSION

George’s death certificate is a derivative source that provides me both primary and secondary information that directly answers some research questions about George’s death, his birth and his parents. But just like all the CSIs we see on TV, a good genealogist will collect as much information as possible, evaluate it all as a whole, and then reevaluate if something new pops up. Actually, there’s a whole concept around this. It’s called the Genealogical Proof Standard. But more on that later…. Tune in….


[1] New Jersey Department of State, death certificate L58 (1892), Eliza Longcor; New Jersey State Archives, Trenton.
[2] New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services, Death Certificate, death certificate no. 597 (penned), George Arthur Repsher (1936).
[3] New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services, Death Certificate, death certificate no. 20100035955, Beatrice I. Guirreri (2010).
[4] New Jersey, Department of Health and Senior Services, Death Certificate, death certificate no. 20150063821, Lorraine Strait (2015).

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