Many experts recommend starting your research with the death records first.
The death record is the most recent record, so it will more likely be available to you. Death records are kept in the state where your ancestor died, not where they were buried. However these records can provide a burial location. Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person's birth, spouse, and parents. Some researchers look first for death records because there are often death records for persons who have no birth or marriage records.
Early death records, like cemetery records, generally give the name, date, and place of death. Twentieth-century certificates usually include the age or date of birth (and sometimes the place), race, length of residence in the county or state, cause of death, name of hospital and funeral home, burial information, and the informant's name (often a relative). They often provide the name of a spouse or parents. Since 1950, social security numbers are given on most death certificates. Birth and other information in a death record may not be accurate because the informant may not have had complete information.
Prior to death registers being recorded at the local county court house, a record of burial may be found in Church records. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database whose records reveal an individuals' full name and residence at time of application, birth and death dates and last known residence. For more information about the SSDI see the U.S. Social Security Records for Genealogists wiki page. A death record is considered a primary source.
The information on a death certificate is usually given by someone close to the ancestor called an informant. Death certificates may be filed in the state where an individual died and also in the state where he is buried. Other than the date, time and place of death, all other information on a death certificate is taken from what is supplied by the informant. This makes a death certificate a secondary source of information for things like the birth place and date, and the names of the deceased's parents.
For more information concerning death records by State see the Summary of Death Records in the United States by State wiki page. To write for vital records see "Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces"
Funeral home records are discussed in the Cemeteries wiki page. The death records of men and women who died in the military, or who are buried in military cemeteries are described in the U.S. Military Records Research Page.
The Social Security Death Index contains records of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration since 1937. The Death Master File contains 87,267,729 records as of 30 July 2010 on the rootsweb.com website. The bulk of the records are from 1962 to the present. The index provides the deceased person's birth date, social security number, state where the social security card was issued, month and year of death, state of residence at death, zip code, and state where death benefit was sent.
Information you may Find on a Death Certificate or Record
- Age at death
- Cause of death
- Date and/or place of birth
- Date and/or place of burial
- Details about the length of illness
- Disposition of cremated remains
- Exact time of death
- How long in this country or location
- Maiden name of deceased woman
- Marital status at the time of death
- Name of surviving spouse
- Name (and sometimes address) of informant, frequently a surviving spouse, child or other close relative
- Name and location of mortuary
- Names of parents
- Occupation and/or name of employer
- Residence of the deceased
- Religious Affiliation
- Signature of attending physician
- Whether single, married, widowed or divorced
- Witnesses at the time of death
How Information from Death Records can Help Research
Dates: birth date and year of immigration can be listed.
Places: birth place, address to help in the search for land records, city directories, locate on map and narrow un-indexed censuses.
Names: maiden, parent's, children, spouses, or witnesses help to find other relatives that you seek. The name of the cemetery and/or funeral home, leads to further information on you ancestor. If death is listed as an accident or killed, there might be a newspaper article about the individual. The mention of cause of death could develop a medical family history for your family.
In a few of the death records collections on Sysoon, you will find the indexes that link to images of actual birth records. In other cases, there are indexes that contain information that will help you request the record. If you find your ancestor in an index, be sure to click on the database title and look at the description to learn how to request the actual death record. The full record will typically include details not found in the index.
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Comments and discussion
This site has changed since I signed up. I used to be able to look people up and their death information was there. Now when I type a person's name in, I get a whole lot of other names. Can someone tell me what I am doing wrong? Also, the "free obituary search" is not free. The suggested site (Ancestry.com) listed under death records wants you to sign up and pay.