Finding Death Records for Infants

Finding Death Records for Infants

You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.

Q. My great-grandparents Minnie and Meyer Gilbert had a child in South Bend, Ind., in 1895. I have a copy of the birth record, but it doesn’t give the name.

They had five other children, the next of whom, Phillip, was born in 1898 and died in 1907. The 1900 census lists the family in Toledo, Ohio, with Phillip, but not this first child. I conclude the first child died prior to the 1900 census, but I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a record of his death. I’ve searched death indexes, obituaries and cemeteries. What other resources are available for death information about an infant?


A. This may sound basic, but make sure the death indexes you’re searching cover the years you need, and that you’ve searched on spelling variations of the family name.

You’ve done well to come up with a theory—that the Gilberts’ first child died—and to research this theory in all the records you can think of. Since you haven’t uncovered any evidence to support that theory, explore other possibilities:

Just because a child isn’t listed in the census, doesn’t mean he died. More often than we’d like to think, a neighbor would guess at the names and ages if the family wasn’t home when the census taker stopped by. Research later records on all the family members for clues to the missing one.

Perhaps the first child and Philip are one in the same. Take a look at the birth record alongside whatever record leads you to conclude Philip was born in 1898: An 8 and a 5 can look similar. There could be a mistake on the first child’s birth record or on Philip’s (or both), particularly if your information comes from a transcription rather than an actual record. I’ve found my grandfather’s birth year as 1901, 1902 and 1913 in census records, a baptismal record and on his own resume.

Assuming the first child isn’t Philip, the baby may have been stillborn or died shortly after birth (especially considering that the birth record you have lacks a name). Check with the St. Joseph County Health Department for a stillbirth or death certificate. Realize indexes miss some births and deaths.

If a child died, your ancestors’ parish priest may have recorded the information. Look for nearby churches they may have attended, then contact the church (or the diocese, if the church is no longer there) to ask what records are available. The Family History Library (FHL) has some church records, too. See the August 2010 Family Tree Magazine for information on researching church records.

City directories, similar to today’s telephone books, may list members of a household, letting you trace the family between censuses. The FHL has South Bend directories for some years around the turn of the century. Its Toledo directories cover the 1890s and 1900s. To find these listings, run a Place search of the online catalog on the city name and look for the Directories topic. County histories also may give clues to epidemics and other events that may have caused the child’s death.

Find expert help researching your family’s birth, marriage and death records in our on-demand webinar Vital Records: Researching Your US Ancestors’ Births, Marriages and Deaths, with Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s available now in Family Tree Shop.

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