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 Indexes and Records Online
For a directory of online death indexes (USA) see...
Online Death Records and Indexes

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, Arkansas, California (Los Angeles and San Joaquin Counties), Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. Coverage varies by place. For links to these see...

Online Death Certificates 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. Some older probate records and wills can be found on digitized microfilm from FamilySearch. 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. (Names of parents may be redacted due to privacy restrictions.)

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: October 2021)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ancestry adds some World War II Draft Registration Cards

Ancestry has put some digitized images of World War II Draft Registration Cards online, and they are indexed by name (this database requires a fee-based subscription). These draft cards are from the Fourth Registration, which was conducted on 27 April 1942 - this is the only registration currently available to the public. This registration was for men born 28 April 1877 to 16 February 1897 (and not already in the military). It is sometimes referred to as "the old man's registration." These WWII draft cards are presently available online at Ancestry for the following states... Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New York City, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

NOTE: the Fourth registration ("old man's registration") records for the following states were destroyed and are not available: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

For a list of links to free and fee-based World War II indexes and records, including Ancestry's fee-based WWII Draft Cards database, see: Online World War Two Indexes and Records - USA

For information on World War ONE draft cards see: World War One Draft Registration Cards 1917-1918

This article was updated on 2 March 2018.

Old New Jersey Marriage Indexes

The New Jersey State Archives has put two marriage records indexes online. They cover 1666-1799 and May 1848 through 31 May 1867. You can find them at... New Jersey State Archives - Searchable Databases

Some more online marriage records indexes can be found listed in this directory... Online Birth and Marriage Records Indexes

Friday, May 19, 2006

Immigration Records for the Singing von Trapp Family

"How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"

Over on the National Archives website you can find some reproductions of immigration records relating to Austria's famous von Trapp family who inspired the musical, the Sound of Music.

Photograph of Maria von Trapp from her naturalization record, 1944.The photograph at left is of Maria von Trapp, the matriarch of the singing family, taken from her "declaration of intention" to become a citizen in 1944. She was played by Julie Andrews in the beloved film. You can find more von Trapp family photographs, along with naturalization records and passenger lists at... Movie vs. Reality: The Real Story of the Von Trapp Family

For more von Trapp family genealogy see: Maria von Trapp in the Social Security Death Index

For help finding immigration records for your ancestors see...
Finding Passenger Lists 1820-1940s (for arrivals at U.S. Ports)

Finding U.S. Naturalization Records

And if you don't know what a "declaration of intention" is click on over to... Types of U.S. Naturalization Records

Monday, May 15, 2006

Passports of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio

"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our Nation turns its lonely eyes to you..."

I'm sensing a new trend. Buddy Holly's passport was recently sold at auction. And now a sports memorabilia company has put passports for Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio up for auction. Marilyn Monroe's dates from 1954 and was issued to "Norma Jean DiMaggio known as Marilyn Monroe."

I'm no expert on memorabilia or auctions, but as a genealogist I like looking at old records and things like passports. You can have a look at these two famous passports at...

Joe DiMaggio's Passport - Auction Listing

Marilyn Monroe's Passport - Auction Listing

For information on obtaining passport records see the Passport Application Records section on the Finding Naturalization Records webpage.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Boulder's Jane Doe - A Colorado Mystery

This article was updated on December 12, 2014.

I drove up to Boulder this afternoon to visit Columbia Cemetery, where I met with Mary Reilly-McNellan, who is the Project Manager for Columbia Cemetery Preservation. I had emailed her last week to ask if I could photograph Jane Doe's grave marker, which has been put away for safekeeping. Mary showed me where Jane's grave marker was locked away and I took a couple of pictures. The grave marker is no longer on the grave because the cemetery's keepers are afraid of vandalism - the cemetery was badly vandalized earlier this year. And Jane Doe is well known in Boulder for being a mystery.

Grave marker of Boulder's Jane DoeIn April 1954 a young woman's body was found by hikers in Boulder Canyon below Boulder Falls. She was thought to be between 17 and 20-years-old. Despite many leads and tips, the Boulder County Sheriff's Department was never able to identify the body or find the killer. Boulderites contributed funds to pay for a burial plot, Howe Mortuary provided a casket, and a grave marker was donated by the Boulder Marble and Granite Works.

In 2004 Jane's body was exhumed. A DNA sample was obtained and her face was reconstructed. Numerous newspaper articles have been written about her and a website has been set up. In March of 2006, the Rocky Mountain News reported a theory by Boulder County Sheriff's Detective Steve Ainsworth that Jane Doe may have been murdered by serial killer Harvey Glatman, who was executed in 1959. An episode of TV's America's Most Wanted with a segment on Boulder's Jane Doe aired on July 8, 2006. This was the first time the reconstruction of Jane Doe's face was shown on national television. Fifty-two years after her death, her identity remains a mystery. However...

Update (November 5, 2009): From DNA, the Boulder County sheriff has identified Boulder Jane Doe as Dorothy Gay Howard. See: Mystery solved: Boulder sheriff IDs 'Jane Doe' as Dorothy Gay Howard

Photograph of Jane Doe's grave in Columbia Cemetery, Boulder, ColoradoHere is Jane Doe's grave in Columbia Cemetery with its missing marker (as it looked in 2006). Note the single rose someone has left on the marking post. (Click on either photo for a larger view.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols

I like spending time in cemeteries because they're usually quiet and they're filled with all sorts of interesting things. I find it oddly comforting seeing all those rows of silent grave markers, each with a story behind it. I occasionally take photographs in cemeteries of things I like. In late April I purchased a new digital camera and I started a photoblog, which is pretty much a photo album, but online. A few cemetery pictures have already made it into the photoblog, which you can see here... Fair Angels Photoblog

Photograph of Symbol from Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, ColoradoI also like deciphering and learning about the symbols that can be found on some grave markers. I have a book called Stories in Stone - A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography that explains the meaning of some of these symbols. In late April I visited Denver's Fairmount Cemetery and I photographed an angel sculpture that had an unusual symbol above it. I haven't been able to determine the meaning behind this symbol. If anyone knows what it means feel free to leave a comment. Just click on the comments link right beneath this post. Thank you.

Update: this symbol turned out to be a monogram with the initials FDW, which stand for Frederick Dearborn Wight (1837-1911), who is one of the family members buried in the plot. Thanks to all who contributed suggestions.

For more information about symbols found on grave markers see: Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols

Monday, May 08, 2006

Last American Survivor of the Titanic Dies

Lillian Asplund, the last American survivor of the 1912 Titanic sinking, died on May 6, 2006 at age 99. She was five-years-old when she boarded the Titanic, and was the last survivor to remember the events. Two other survivors, both British, are still living.* Both were infants at the time of the Titanic. You can read more here... Titanic Survivor Lillian Asplund Dies - Obituary

For information on Titanic passenger records see the New York section at... What Passenger Lists are Online?

Here is Lillian Asplund's listing in the Social Security Death Index ...

Birth: 21 Oct 1906
Death: 06 May 2006 (V)
Last Residence: 01545 (Shrewsbury, Worcester, MA)
Last Benefit: (none specified)
SSN: 027-09-5906
Issued: Massachusetts

*Update: Titanic survivor, Barbara West Dainton of Camborne, England, passed away on October 16, 2007 at the age of 96. The last Titanic survivor, Millvina Dean of Southampton, England, who was a two-month-old baby at the time of the Titanic tragedy, passed away on May 31, 2009 at the age of 97. See: Millvina Dean, Last Survivor of the Titanic, Dies

Thursday, May 04, 2006

New Additions - Online Birth and Marriage Indexes

The following links were recently added to Online Birth and Marriage Records Indexes ...

- Shasta County Marriage Records Index 1854-1930

- La Plata County Marriage Records Index from 6/19/1877 through 7/2/1959

- Colorado Historical Records Index - includes...
-- Boulder County Birth Index 1892-1906
-- Denver (City) Birth Index 1875-1906
-- Elbert County Birth Index 1869-1906
-- Kit Carson County Birth Report Register 1892-1907

- Brevard County, Florida Marriage License Application Inquiry 1999-current - also includes historical marriage records 1938-1998

- Indiana Marriage Index 1993-2000

- Fayette County Kentucky Birth Index 1911-1930

- Caddo Parish Marriage Index 1937-present

- Howard County, Maryland Marriage Licenses 1860-1939

- Minnesota Birth Certificate Index 1900-1911 (updated)

New York...
- New York City Brides Index - various years (ongoing project)

North Dakota...
- Grand Forks County Marriage License Search, November 1875 - June 1914

- Multnomah County Marriage Records Index 1850s-1904

- Early Vermont Marriages from Berlin, Burlington & Montpelier

West Virginia...
- West Virginia Vital Records Indexes - includes birth indexes for 3 counties & marriage indexes for 6 counties; more are being added

- Wisconsin Pre-1907 Vital Records Index -- covers 1852 to September 30, 1907 (most entries date from 1880; includes some entries prior to 1852)
- Milwaukee County Marriage Records 1822-1876

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pre-1907 Wisconsin Marriage Index

The Wisconsin Historical Society has updated their pre-1907 vital records index to include marriage records. Birth and death records were already included. While the index covers 1852-Sept. 30, 1907, most entries date from 1880. You may find a few entries prior to 1852. You can purchase copies of the records for a fee.

Wisconsin Pre-1907 Vital Records Index

Also helpful...
Online Wisconsin Death Records, Indexes, Obituaries and Cemetery Burials