Washington, Death Certificates (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page
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Access the records: Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960 .
Each death is reported on a one-page pre-printed form. Early certificates from 1907-1947 are filed by year within each county or large city. Counties are arranged alphabetically. Large cities are arranged alphabetically following the county lists. Certificates are arranged by number within the county or city. Each county or city numbered their own certificates beginning with number one. In 1948, a revised statewide numbering system was instituted.
The legislature in 1891 made it the responsibility of all coroners, physicians, and midwives or any other person assisting in the birth of a child to report to the county auditor all deaths which came under their supervision. Death registrations prior to 1907 were filed in the counties. From 1907 to 1960 the records were filed in the health department offices of the counties or the cities. From time to time county names and county boundaries changed, and several changes took place within the range of this records series. For example, Chehalis County became Grays Harbor County. The list of cities that maintained their own separate health departments also increased. In 1907, the cities were Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. By 1948, there were 21 cities. These changes should always be considered when researching in the records series.
Initially, registration was very incomplete. The law was generally complied with by 1917. A licensed funeral director is now required to complete the death certificate before a burial or transit permit can be issued.
The state of Washington began registration of deaths July 1, 1907. This collection covers from then until 1960.
Deaths were recorded to serve public health needs. They are also used to probate wills and administer the deceased person’s estate.
Death certificates are reliable for the death date and place of the deceased. Burial information is generally very reliable unless the burial took place out of the state. Other information provided will only be as reliable as the informant’s knowledge or memory.
Citation for This Collection
The following citation refers to the original source of the data and images published on FamilySearch.org Historical Records. It may include the author, custodian, publisher, and archive for the original records.
- Bureau of Vital Statistics. Washington statewide death certificates. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Olympia, Washington.
Key genealogical facts found in death certificates are:
- Dates of death and burial
- Place of death
- Name of cemetery where buried or other disposition of remains, such as cremation or removal from place of death
- Frequently, the birth date and/or age, written as years, months, and days, of the deceased
- Frequently, the names of parents, including the maiden name of mother and the married name of spouse
- Frequently, the country or state and sometimes the town and county of birth for the deceased and the parents
- Name of the informant, who is often a child or other family member
- The sex and marital status of the deceased
- Residence or address of the deceased, often including length of residence at that place
- Occupation of the deceased
- Cause of death of the deceased, as certified by a medical practitioner or county coroner
How to Use the Record
Begin your search by finding your ancestors in the index. Name indexes to deaths make it possible to access a specific record quickly. Remember that these indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings, misinterpretations, and optical character recognition errors if the information was scanned.
When searching the index it is helpful to know the following:
- The place where the death occurred
- The name of the person at the time of death
- The approximate death date
Use the locator information found in the index (such as page, entry, or certificate number) to locate your ancestor in the death records. Some on-line indexes, such as indexes to FamilySearch Historical Records, will take you directly to an image. Compare the information in the death record to what you already know about your ancestor to determine if this is the correct person. You may need to compare the information of more than one person to make this determination.
When you have located your ancestor’s death record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family.
- Use the birth date or age along with the place of birth to find or verify their birth records and parents' names.
- Use the birth date or age along with the place of birth to find the family in census records.
- Use the residence and names of the parents (if the deceased is a child) to locate church and land records.
- Occupations listed can lead you to other types of records such as employment or military records.
- Use the parents' birth places to find former residences and to establish a migration pattern for the family.
- The name of the officiator is a clue to their religion or area of residence in the county.
- The name of the undertaker or mortuary could lead you to funeral and cemetery records which often include the names and residences of other family members.
- Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname; this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
- Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives of the deceased who may have died or been buried in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
- When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
If you are unable to find the ancestors you are looking for, try the following:
- Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
- Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
- Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.
Keep in mind:
- The information in these records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the informant.
- Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
- There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.
For a summary of this information see the wiki article: United States, How to Use the Records Summary (FamilySearch Historical Records).
- State of Washington Public Records
- Your Guide to Researching Washington Ancestors
- Washington State Digital Archives
Related Wiki Articles
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Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
When you copy information from a record, you should list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.
A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the wiki article Help:How to Cite FamilySearch Collections.
Citation Example for a Record Found in This Collection
"Washington Death Certificates, 1907-1960." index and images, FamilySearch accessed 8 April 2011. entry for Marjorie Jean Rawson, died 6 May 1954; citing Death Certificates, FHL microfilm 2,033,393; Washington State Bureau of Vital Statistics, Olympia, Washington.