Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Trouble With Kansas—
and Oklahoma, too


With six routes to a possible confirmation of a woman's identity, you'd think the answer would be nearly within grasp. But no, thanks to a particular restriction in the state of Oklahoma, I may never find my answer.

I had found a possible answer to my question, "What became of Sarah Murdock Nolan of Lafayette, Indiana?" when I located an 1880 census enumeration in Wichita, Kansas, which included the names and correct locations of birth of the oldest of her children. The only ones missing from that 1880 record were her husband John and two children. Those children we later confirmed had died before the family left Lafayette.

To confirm that those whom we later found in Kansas were actually children of the right Sarah Nolan, the next step seemed easy enough: follow the children through their life's history to obtain their own record of death. If any of those children died after 1900—after 1910 would be preferable—his or her death certificate should include a confirmation of the mother's maiden name. Easy peasy.

Not, apparently, if the child died in either Kansas or Oklahoma.

Yesterday, we explored the possibility that any of Sarah Nolan's children died in Kansas after that magic date heralding the "modern" death certificate. Despite Sarah being mother to at least nine children, that list of possibilities was narrowed down to a weak "maybe" for only one descendant: Samuel. Even at that, I can't determine where Samuel died; I only can see that he possibly was buried in Kansas. Like his mother Sarah, he could have died while visiting family in Oklahoma, then was returned for burial back home in Kansas.

Looking for death records of ancestors in Kansas is not a streamlined matter. Although there is access to some online information on deaths in Sedgwick County where the Nolans once lived—or for anywhere else in the state, for that matter—there are gaps in the series of available dates. Besides, the collection on providing such records is considered a "Legacy Collection" and, as it turns out, doesn't include the information I'd be seeking in Sedgwick County.

No matter. That was the chance to trace only one out of six of Sarah's children dying after the early 1900s. Onward to the rest, who all moved to Oklahoma. And that becomes the crux of the problem: Oklahoma, it turns out, is quite particular about who can seek copies of their residents' death records.

While Oklahoma mandated statewide registration of deaths by 1908, that requirement was not consistently achieved before 1930. Worse, as the FamilySearch wiki notes, "Records before 1940 were placed on file inconsistently." So much for the deaths of all but Sabina Nolan Martin, whose passing occurred in 1945.

But there's more. Should I want to obtain any of those Nolan descendants' death records—assuming they did make it into the state file—the state of Oklahoma imposes restrictions. A 2016 state law considers deaths occurring more than fifty years ago "open records." While that may sound encouraging, the law also requires a genealogist to obtain written permission of a descendant of the deceased to order a copy plus document the relationship between the descendant and the deceased.

All for the simple step of confirming what Sarah Nolan's maiden name might have been.

Granted, there are some Oklahoma death records available online. However, like those we discovered for Kansas, the Oklahoma records on are considered a Legacy Collection—containing, at best, a partial index of records.

Keeping that now impossibly distant research goal still in sight, I realized there may be another way to achieve my purposes. With our last post on this September research goal tomorrow, we'll take a look at that option as well as determine next steps for resolving this research dilemma.  


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