Genealogists start with death—meaning that we generally research ancestors from their deaths and moving back in time. But death-record searches can be challenging for several reasons, including when relatives died before statewide vital record-keeping or their names were recorded oddly.
If you can’t find a death certificate for a relative, look for other death records for the time and place he died. If you’ve found one death record, look for others. Different types of records might have different details, and they provide additional documentation that you have the right death date and place.
You’ll learn how to find and analyze death information in Family Tree University’s three-day crash course, Tricks and Treats in Death Records.
Here are nine kinds of old death records to look for (including examples I’ve found in my research):
The State Death Certificate
Once statewide death recording began (in the early 1900s for most states), counties created standard-format death certificates and sent copies to the state vital records office. Our free downloadable Vital Records Chart lists when these official death certificates began for each state. You can order them from county and state vital record offices, possibly with privacy restrictions (such as proving a relationship to the deceased) if the death was less than 25 or 50 years ago.
The Local Death Record
You’re not necessarily out of luck if your ancestor died before statewide death records. Many cities and towns issued their own death certificates, which varied in format. They may be available microfilmed or digitized via a local library or archive, the state archive, or online at a genealogy website such as FamilySearch or Ancestry.com.
The Death Register
Local jurisdictions may have recorded deaths in a table form, such as this register with the death date, cause and place, along with the deceased’s name, age, birthplace, parents’ names and address (all if known). The columns span two pages. Look for death registers in the same places as local death records.
Substitute Death Records
Before statewide vital records begin, death recording can be hit or miss. Luckily, many types of records can substitute for death records, providing similar information. That includes the cemetery record:
the census mortality schedule:
the church death record:
and the probate file and the obituary and the burial permit and more. I haven’t even touched on indexes to all these records.
Learn all about the different types of death records, where to find them and how to analyze them for clues—and false leads!—in Family Tree University’s three-day crash course, Tricks and Treats in Death Records.
This crash course runs Oct. 31-Nov. 2, and includes video classes and a conference message board for getting help from your instructor and fellow students. See the Tricks and Treats in Death Records crash course program at Family Tree University.