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Searching for Ancestral Death Records: Part 1

Posted Friday, January 11, 2013, at 10:15 AM

Several genealogists have written in and asked. "Where do I look for a death record if there isn't a death certificate. Our society is extremely sensitive to the death of any of its members. I recently did a quick count and found well over twenty possible sources of information on an ancestor's death. You could probably add to my list and I certainly hope you do.

Some of these might have limitations of access and you would have to prove close kinship or have the written permission of a close relative before anyone will talk to you.

Not all sources apply to each case but it is useful to have a checklist of them. One of the advantages of this variety is that they do not all require the same preliminary information for you to find them, and, once you have found one, it can provide you with information that will help you to find others. Here they are in no particular order and some of them are more like a "long shot" than others.

1. There may be a Newspaper Article about the death, if it was the result of an accident or a crime, or was in some other way newsworthy.

2. Local papers also frequently wrote Report on the Funeral with a lot of family history information. Be sure to check for several weeks before and after a death for any relevant reports.

3. Obituaries and Death Notices were not common in the big city dailies until well into the 20th century (except for prominent people), but were very common in the smaller local newspapers. These usually provide a lot of information of interest to the Family Historian. Many of these have been indexed. Some are available on line and others can be consulted in local libraries. One advantage here is that you only have to know the place where the deceased lived, you don't need to know the date of death.

4. It was not uncommon to run Obituaries in papers of towns where the deceased had siblings or other close family, so if you can't find one locally try these areas.

5. Civil Registration of deaths was done at the municipal and or provincial state level, depending on the jurisdiction and the time. If they are not indexed, you must know the date of death to have hope of finding it. More and more of these are being indexed and placed on line.

6. If you know the church that the deceased attended, there is a good chance of finding a burial record in their Church Registers. These may be still in the church or, in the larger religions, kept in a central or diocesan archives.

7. Cemeteries kept Records if Burials, although many of these have been lost, since most were kept in private homes by the person in charge of the cemetery. They are worth looking for, however, and some of the larger cemeteries have placed theirs on line. Others maybe in local archives.

8. Tombstone Transcriptions or the tombstones themselves are favorite sources for Family Historians although they have a low reliability factor. Local libraries usually have copies of these transcriptions. Many Family Historians take pride in doing Stone Rubbings to Frame for records of their families deaths.

9. Funeral Home Records were kept, usually meticulously, and they went with the business when it was sold. There can be a lot of Family History in their records.

10. A Death Certificate: is usually issued by the attending physician, if there is one, or after an autopsy. It provides the time, date, and cause of death. It initiates the civil registration of the death and is required by the undertaker, insurance and pension companies, the courts for the probate and a variety of other involved agencies. A copy of it may be in the family papers, the files of any of the other agencies that required it, or the hospital that issued it. Remember most states didn't require the physician or midwife to turn in a notice of Death or Birth until 1917 most State Registrar's will not have birth or death records before this time at the State Level.

We will conclude the discussion of this topic in next week's column.

I welcome comments, queries, and suggestions at: poinsetthhs@yahoo.com. Articles are printed weekly in The Modern News and Poinsett County Democrat Tribune. You make make comments each week in the Poinsett County Democrat Tribune Blogs online.



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Ms. Genealogy
Sylvia Evans
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