Two years ago I was ecstatic when I identified the parents of Henry Nance. Henry Nance is my great-great-grandfather, and until then, no one in my family could recall much about him, other than the fact that he was born in Tennessee, was one of 14 children and had a family of 16 children before leaving Tennessee for Alabama.

Nobody knew when Henry Nance left Tennessee, or when he arrived in Alabama. Nobody knew the names of his siblings or parents. Nobody knew how he met and eventually married Annie Cotton, my great-great-grandmother, who was 28 years his junior.

A death certificate helped fill in the blanks that my relatives’ memory could not.

I contacted the state department of health and requested a copy of Henry Nance’s death certificate. Aside from the date of death (Feb. 25, 1926) and cause of death (heart failure), the informant was required to list the deceased’s parents. There, typed plainly into the space were the names of Henry’s parents: William J. and Lula Mae Nance. According to the certificate, William J. Nance was born in Alabama and Lula Mae Nance was born in Georgia. Henry was listed as having been born in Nashville, Tenn., confirming the family oral history.

A couple weeks ago I happened upon another site,, and put in a few of my ancestors’ names to see what I could find. To my surprise, I found a transcribed version of a death certificate for another great-great-grandfather, Frank Gilley. (Frank Gilley is the father of my great-grandmother, Mamie Gilley Nance (1892-1959)).

BACKSTORY: After having success with Henry’s death certificate, I sent off for all of the death certificates I could verify existed. I had a copy of Frank’s death certificate, which was informative, but slightly illegible. The key thing I was looking for– his parents’ names — was difficult to read. I could only make out “Mariah” for his mother’s name.

I’m happy to report that Frank Gilley is the son of Mariah Tindall and Seaborn Tindall.

So far, I have unlocked several doors and probably raised more questions than I have answered. But still, I feel an overwhelming sense of identity with each name that I add to my family tree.