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January 18, 2013

Caveat Emptor? Or Does Michigan have a Complaint Desk?

A few days ago I wrote about ordering a Marriage Record from Michigan using VitalChek. The blog post is Disappointment of a Michigan Marriage Record and summarizes the aggravation and the expense ($70.25) for this record

Julie Cahill Tarr wrote to say (in part)
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the information that's on the certificate is not even correct. First off, the "file date" is wrong, it's actually April 3, 1877. The Aug 1 date is the date that the clerk recorded the state copy for the year 1876. This is a minor mistake.

This second mistake is not so minor. The witnesses were actually Andrew H and Christine Stafford, both of Lapeer (they gave you the one for the marriage below Barney and Maggie). And there is a church listed for the pastor, which is correct (E. L. Little), I think it says "1st Bap Ch Lapeer." It also notes the Barney was a laborer.

The record can be found here ( line 1719. It's part of the Michigan, Marriages, 1868-1925 database"

 Julie goes on to add "That's a lot of money for a piece of paper that doesn't have the correct information and is missing possible clues, such as the church"

I agree! So today I checked the online image (thank you Julie!!) and saw that all the errors Julie found  are indeed there, and I found yet another. The age of the bride (Maggie McGinnis) is incorrect on the transcript. The image clearly shows her age as 18 but my official transcript has hear age as 16.  

[ Image found at ]
I can see that whoever transcribed the document wrote down the names of the witnesses of the marriage UNDER my Barney and Maggie. They skipped the correct witness names which Julie found.

I am less than impressed. Interestingly at the bottom of my official transcript it states

"I hereby certify that this is a TRUE AND CORRECT representation of the vital record facts on file..." The upper case letters are mine for emphasis.

So the bottom line is that I paid over $70.00 for a document CERTIFIED to be "TRUE AND CORRECT" and it is full of erros. My question is what is my recourse? Do you think it will do me any good to file a complaint? And where and to whom do I complain?

The fact that the image was online is entirely my oversight; that is not my complaint. But should not the "verified" transcript have the correct information copied from the image on file?


Susan McKay said...

As to what can be done, I'm afraid I don't know. Although much of my family has spent many years in Michigan I am not and have never been a resident there so don't know what your resources might be there.

But, and sorry to say this is even more discouraging, this is no isolated incident. There seems to be in a number of places an attitude that these sorts of transactions aren't "important" and that care is not particularly needed. When I've tried to follow up on such incidents that has been a consistent attitude until you get up the administrative ladder, then one might get a statement along the lines of "that shouldn't have happened" but never have I heard them admit there was any real import to their oversight/carelessness. I've several times had them almost chuckle at my distress and it's several times been pointed out to me that such mistakes are common: No duh! I figured that out on my own, lady, and you are one of the reasons! I have sometimes gotten an apology but nothing more. It is particularly distressing now that so many places have decided that providing public information to the public is potentially financially rewarding, as you so aptly pointed out in the last post.

I wish we could figure out some way to at least get them to take their well-paid work seriously.


GrannyPam said...

Something else to consider here. Whee did your certificate come from? Was it completed by someone in Lansing, or someone in Lapeer County? The page which Julie referred you were "returns", copies of records sent to the State of Michigan by the county. Errors may have been made in coping the original records for the return.

I have personally seen county records and compared them to "returns" for another county where my family lived, and their can be differences.

I think I would contact Lapeer County [] and find out what their local record says.

Anonymous said...

In Virginia, you can get them to pull the original with much haggling and they will check the "digital" copy vs the actual copy from the book. From the cases I have heard they will change the "digital" image to match the original and reissue you a copy. (I had a friend do this when we stopped by to get some documents.

That being said, I know of other issues folks have had at Virginia where they could not find the record but someone could by looking at the the microfilm at the Library of Virginia.

And that doesn't even address, do they keep track of everyone else who wanted a certified copy of the same document and will they send them a new one that is correct?

what a mess the digital age can cause :-)


Jennifer Sepulvado said...

I have encountered the same problem with a county clerk in St. Clair County, Michigan. I sent for a death record and then was able to visit the clerk's office several years later. While I was there, I viewed the record on-site in the register books. The surname of the mother on the copy mailed to me matched exactly how I had written it on the request, whereas it was spelled differently in the register book at the clerk's office. The birthplace of the deceased was given as Port Huron, MI on the mailed certificate, but the registration only said Michigan. In fact, I should have known it was wrong before I even looked at the register book because the certificate used the postal code of "MI" in the birthplace. Postal codes did not exist in 1935. The mother's first name was also spelled "Mable" on the original register, but the certificate they sent had the more standard version of her name "Mabel."

Julie said...

I'll be curious to see what others suggest to take as a course of action. And I'll certainly be interested to know what action you take and how it turns out.

I've never used VitalCheck before. The only knowledge I have of it is that it exists. Therefore, I have no idea what their process is, but I suspect they are the middleman. I assume they take the order (and your money) and contact the state for a copy and then it somehow gets to you. If that is the case, I really have no idea who to complain to. If VitalCheck is only handling the order process, which seems to be the case, I would venture to say that they are not at any fault (other than their outrageous fees) simply because they have no idea whether the information is extracted properly or not. It really looks to me like the state registrar, the one who signed and sealed the certificate, is at fault and I would certainly lodge a complaint with them. Unfortunately, this does nothing to get you any money back from VitalCheck, but at least it will bring it to the registrar's attention.

Even though I haven't used VitalCheck, based on your experience and the massive expense, I would caution people about using this service. There are many instances where these records can be found elsewhere for free or a minimal fee (online, FHL, state archives, etc.) and that is usually my first place to look. When those options aren't available for a particular time period and/or area, I go straight to the county (or town for some states). I used to go to the state level, but I stopped for three reasons. First, it's usually more expensive at the state. Second, the state usually doesn't have records that the county created before the state started to mandate copies be provided to the state. And lastly, I found that the county usually has the most accurate and complete information, especially with the older records where written transcripts were provided to the's just one more place an error can occur.

My one curiosity is, which I never thought of until today is, when you request a copy directly from the state or county, can you ask for a photocopy/photo/scan of the actual register (original, film, whatever) as opposed to them issuing a "certificate" that is produced at the time of the request from the original (or filmed) registers? I know in some cases, particularly when certificates were issued back in the day, they usually just make a copy (for example, Kane Co., IL made copies of the original certificates of marriage and deaths and mailed them to me). But with Michigan, for example, like you experienced (and I have a death certificate from the same registrar, but at least he recorded mine correctly!), they issue these "transcript" certificates and not a copy of the register. I'd rather see the register, because as we've illustrated, it's another level away from the original and the possibility for transcription errors is greater.

Sorry for the long comment (again!)...maybe I should have written a blog post instead ;) Who knows, maybe it'll become a blog post down the line. I'm just happy that I was able to help you get the correct information...just sorry the whole experience was negative and such a costly one.

Julie said...

@Pam - In my original comment, I provided a link to both the state copy and the county copy. If I remember correctly, they matched.

Bryna O'Sullivan said...

Just a follow-up to Judy's comment. It depends on the state. Some states require the locality to certify their copy, so if they can't fit the certification on the page, they'll retype it anyway.

Bryna O'Sullivan said...

Oops... Sorry Julie. Not reading!

Unknown said...

In my opinion, the bottom line is that you requested and PAID FOR a certified TRUE AND CORRECT copy of the certificate - which you DID NOT receive.

I would contact VitalChek and request a refund because the information is not true and correct. Let THEM get their money back from the Registrar's office.

Gaye said...

I would also send them a link to this post and tell them we of the genealogy communitry are all waiting to know how they respond to such an issue.