What’s in a Death Record? Two Examples

By David A. Fryxell Premium

 Death Certificate at a Glance

1. Take note of the deceased’s marital status as well as spouse’s name; here’s evidence that H.G. Miller died before June 1933. 
2. Sometimes death records provide useful clues for further research, such as the name and birthplace of the deceased’s father.
3. Sources for finding a mother’s maiden name can be scarce. But now you can follow up searching for Blackfords in Kentucky, and for a marriage record for Katherine and J.M. Collier.
4. An informant’s name can provide clues: This informant’s last name is different from the deceased’s maiden and married names. How is she related—possibly a married daughter?
5. The name of the undertaker can help you find funeral-home records that could contain more information.
Citation for this record: Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1962, No. 22056, Mary Susan Miller; digital image, Missouri Digital Heritage, Missouri State Archives ( accessed 5 June 2011).

Obituary at a Glance

1. Obituaries typically give the deceased’s age and place of birth (which can lead to birth records) and survivors’ names—though the wife and children aren’t named here. 
2. Details of Mr. Brownlee’s death on the Gettysburg battlefield are clues to discovering records of his military service. Keep in mind tales of heroism may have been embellished.
3. Shorter death notices offer basic facts about the date, place and cause of death. These name the survivors, candidates for further research. 
4. Vital record-keeping gaps during the Civil War in many places mean newspapers may be the only source for death information. 
5. Newspapers are generally considered secondary sources of information, because a reporter’s accounts are based on someone else’s recollection. Try to confirm details in other sources.
Citation for this record: “Obituary of Wm. M. Brownlee,” The Abingdon Virginian (Abingdon, Va.), 13 Nov. 1863, p. 3, col. 3; digital image, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress ( accessed 16 July 2013).

From the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine


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