Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Searching for Death Records - A Brief Overview

Here's a brief guide to the kinds of genealogy records you might be able to find relating to a person's death in the United States.

Death Certificates
Many states started recording and requiring death certificates in the early part of the 20th Century. Some states go back further.

Digitized copies of death certificates (or records) are available for online downloading for Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois (Chicago & Cook County), Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia (coverage varies; some may require a fee). For links to those and links to online death certificate indexes for some other states (and some counties) see...

Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records

For information on ordering copies of death certificates at the state level see the "How to Order Copies of Vital Records" section at: Birth, Marriage and Death Records - Vital Records Research Guide

Newspaper Obituaries, Death Notices and Burial Permits
Obituaries can be helpful as they often give date and place of death and burial, and sometimes they name surviving and deceased relatives. In some cases you might find a death or burial notice instead of an obituary - these usually do not contain as much detail as an obituary. You will not always be able to find these kinds of newspaper listings for everyone who died. Local public libraries can be good sources for obtaining copies of obituaries. More recent obituaries can often be found online. For some tips see... Obituaries Research Guide

Cemeteries and Burial Indexes
If you don't know where someone is buried, death certificates often list place of burial. Some cemeteries have placed their burial indexes online, while others have been transcribed by volunteers.

Guide to Online Cemeteries and Burial Indexes

Probate Records and Wills
Wills and probate records can be helpful as they usually list a person's heirs - their spouse or children, or sometimes siblings or other relatives. Some counties now have recent probate indexes online. Try the death indexes directory or do a Google search for the particular county you are interested in. Many older probate records and wills can be found on microfilm at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The microfilm rolls can ordered and viewed for a fee at local Family History Centers. You might also be able to find probate records in the courthouse where the will was probated or a local or state archive or other repository if the records were moved there.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
Deaths reported to the Social Security Administration are listed in this useful index. It's available online at several websites and some of them update it each month. For a list of four online SSDIs (three of them are free to use) see...

The Social Security Death Index - Online Searching

Once you've found someone in the SSDI you can then order a copy of that person's Social Security SS-5 form - this is the form they filled out when applying for a Social Security Card, and it contains useful information about the person, usually including date and place of birth, and names of parents.

Census Mortality Schedules
Census mortality schedules are available for some states for 1850, 1860, 1870 or 1880. Basic details were recorded for people who died in the year prior to the census being taken. Be aware that some people who died in those time frames were missed, and these schedules are not available for all states. For more information see... U.S. Census Records Mortality Schedules 1850-1880

Happy Searching!
(article updated: April 2013)

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