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Tracing your ancestors through public records

Death records while they are evidence of the end of someone's life, can provide important information and lead you to other sources about a person and their family.

A three-year cooperative project between the State Health Department, the Genealogical Society of Utah, and the Minnesota Historical Society has made the 20th-century death records available to researchers. This exhibit celebrates this accomplishment and illustrates the value of these and related records for family history.

Using the Avaloz and Rangel families as examples, this exhibit demonstrates how information in one record leads to data in another record. For example, the date of death can lead you to an obituary in a local newspaper. The address where a person was living when he or she died can point to a record in the 1930 census and to a neighborhood on a fire insurance map. Family names on the death record can lead to other sources like oral histories, city directories, church records, and manuscript collections.

photo of Francisco Rangel's death certificate photo of Faustino Avaloz's death certificate

Death records
The Minnesota Historical Society Library has death certificates for people who died in Minnesota from 1907 to 1996. You can find an index to the death certificates on the Minnesota Historical Society's website.

On Francisco Rangel's death certificate, you can learn his date of birth, June 4, 1894, and that his father's name was Teburcio and his mother's first name was Tomasa.

Faustino Avaloz's death certificate lists his wife's maiden name, Galizia, and his cause of death, bilateral pulmonary thrombosis. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul.

Obituaries
Obituaries are often a good source of personal information about the person who died. the Death Record gives you a date and a location, so you can look for an obituary in a local newspaper.

Francisco Rangel assisted Mexicans living in Minnesota through his work as an aid to the Mexican consulate in Chicago during the 1940s and '50s. His obituary also tells us his place of birth, Aguascalientes, Mexico, and that he became a citizen in 1955.

Photographs
The Minnesota Historical Society collections include photographs of people and places throughout Minnesota. Many of them can be found on the Society's website on the Visual Resources Database.

photo of Frank Rangel and his combo
A 1970 photo of Frank (Kiko) Rangel and his combo: Jose Gaona, Enrique Velazquez, and Roberto Pineda.

photo of Amelia and Basilia Diaz and Genevieve Rangel dressed as Mexican dancers
Amelia and Basilia Diaz and Genevieve Rangel dressed as Mexican dancers for a neighborhood program at Lafayette School in 1944.

photo of Tino and George Avaloz
Tino Avaloz, left, and his older brother George posed for this picture dressed for a Mexican Independence Day celebration at Harriet Island, 1941.

1930 census
The federal census, taken every 10 years, provide important information about family members. The Avaloz family, #16, lived at 168 East Fairfield in St. Paul. The father, Faustino, was a farm laborer in the beet fields.

photo of federal census entry for the Avaloz family

image of map example

Sanborn maps
Fire insurance maps were produced by the Sanborn Company to assess the risk of insuring buildings in different parts of Minnesota cities.

Oral histories
During the 1970s a Minnesota Historical Society project interviewed a number of Mexican Americans in St. Paul and preserved the interviews on tape and in transcripts. These interviews provide the voices and perspectives of community members as well as information valuable to family history researchers.

In Esther Avaloz's interview, she states "My husband Gabriel wanted his children to get an education rather than working because there will always be work, but you cannot always get an education."

transcript from Esther Avaloz's oral history interview

City directories
City directories for many Minnesota cities can help locate addresses for Minnesota residents. Name spellings aren't always correct.

Faustino, Gabriel, and Lena Avaloz (spelled Avolus) all lived at 168 E. Fairfield in the 1930 St. Paul directory. Faustino's and Gabriel's occupations are listed as "lab," or laborer.

city directory entries for the Avaloz family

photo of Reverend James A. Ward and children
The Reverend James A. Ward, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church at the corner of Fairfield and Eva streets, poses with Frank Rangel on the left and Pedro Chavez on the right, about 1945.

photo of Rafaela Cortez and Carlos Garay posing inside St. Ambrose Catholic Church for their wedding portrait
Though the West Side had the largest Mexican community in St. Paul, Mexicans also settled on the East Side. Inside St. Ambrose Catholic Church the wedding party of Rafaela Cortez and Carlos Garay posed for a formal portrait in 1947.

 

marriage register entry for Gabriel Avaloz and Esther Torres

photo of Francisco Rangel's obituary

photo of snapshot of East Fairfield Avenue
A snapshot of East Fairfield Avenue in St. Paul in the 1950s, where the Avaloz family lived for a time.

Eugenia Rangel and Benjamin Garcia's wedding invitation Church records and manuscripts
Church records provide additional family information. For example, these parish registers from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church contain marriage and baptismal records.

The marriage register entry for Gabriel Avaloz and Esther Torres, on line two, gives the date of their marriage, their birth dates and places of birth, and their parents' names. The bride's parents' names were Severiano Torres and Vicenta Valdina.

Manuscript records also include other family documents, such as this wedding invitation announcing Eugenia Rangel and Benjamin Garcia's wedding on June 18 in San Pablo, Minnesota.