AncestorNews: Death Records

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

AncestorNews: Death Records

Mary D. Taffet of Syracuse, NY, responded to last week’s column about everyday life in the Civil War. She has begun to transcribe her collection of Civil War letters. Check them out at I hope you all enjoy her Web site and this week’s column.

One bit of information on a death record can open the doors to even your toughest research problem—at least that was the case for me. Although I’d searched at length for information on my great-great grandparents, I made little progress until I ordered my great grandfather’s death records. What was the clue? His mother’s maiden name. Once I had that, I quickly located marriage records and broke down another of those blasted brick walls.

Death records can contain a wide range of genealogical information, including the attending physician’s name, the length and type of illness, the mother’s maiden name, the parents’ names and birthplaces, the name of the person who gave the information and the relationship of that person to the deceased, the address of the deceased, the spouse, and the date and time of death. If you haven’t ordered death records on as many ancestors as possible, you could be missing that one vital clue to broaden your research.

Now, having told you how useful death records can be, I also have to say they come with a word of warning. As we all know, when someone in the family dies, it’s tremendously stressful. Since the person giving the information is probably a family member, it’s not unusual that they would be so distraught that the information may not be accurate. Use the death-record data as a pointer to research, but not as absolute truth until you can prove it.

Have you broken down a brick wall with a death record? If you have, write and tell me about it. To learn more about using death records in your research, visit these Web sites:

Where to Write for Vital Records

Death Certificates, Registration and Resources

RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees

Death Index Resources