When Jock Phillips began researching his family background, he understood from family memory that his grandfather had drowned in the Whanganui River, but knew little else about him. His grandfather's death certificate confirmed that Samuel Phillips had drowned in the river. But it provided much more information – it gave the exact location (Hipango Park) and date of the drowning, Samuel Phillips' address at the time, his occupation as a commercial traveller, his place of origin in London, the time he had spent in New Zealand, the name of his wife and date of marriage, his mother's full birth name, his father's full name and occupation, and his religion (Jewish).
A single official document therefore provided a huge amount of information, much of which could be followed up by other research. Even taking into account the fact that the accuracy of the details depended upon the reliability of the informant, in this case probably Samuel’s ex-wife, official documents can be of great assistance to people doing genealogical research.
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