United States Death Records
Many experts recommend starting your research with the death record first, instead of with a birth record. The death record is the most recent record making it more likely to be available. Death Records or Death registers can provide burial location, and often the deceased's birthplace. Prior to death registers being recorded at the local county court house, a record of burial could be found in Church records. Church records are still a good place to find records of death. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database whose records reveal an individuals' full name and residence at time of application, birth and death dates and last known residence. For more information about the SSDI see the U.S. Social Security Records for Genealogists page. A death record is considered a primary source.
The information on a death certificate is usually given by someone close to the ancestor called an informant. Other than the date, time and place of death, a death certificate is taken from the information known by the informant. This makes a death certificate a secondary source of information for things like the birth place and date, and the names of the deceased's parents.
For more information concerning death records by State see the Summary of Death Records in the United States by State page.
Things you may find on a death certificate or record
- Age at death
- Cause of death
- Date and/or place of birth
- Date and/or place of burial
- Details about the length of illness
- Disposition of cremated remains
- Exact time of death
- How long in this country or location
- Maiden name of deceased woman
- Marital status at the time of death
- Name of surviving spouse
- Name (and sometimes address) of informant, frequently a surviving spouse, child or other close relative
- Name and location of mortuary
- Names of parents
- Occupation and/or name of employer
- Residence of the deceased
- Signature of attending physician
- Whether single, married, widowed or divorced
- Witnesses at the time of death
How information from death records can help research
Dates; birth date and year of immigration can be listed. Places; birth place, address to help in the search for land records, city directories, locate on map and narrow un-indexed census'. Names; maiden, parent's, children, spouses, or witnesses help to find other relatives that you seek. The name of the cemetery and/or funeral home, leads to further information on you ancestor. If death is listed as an accident or killed, there might be a newspaper article about the individual. The mention of cause of death could develop a medical family history for your family.
Places to look for Death Records
- Church records of deaths and burials
- City and County civil registrations
- Family Bibles and personal histories
- FamilySearch in the Advanced Search, Records Search, and Historic Books
- Google and other web site search sites, and don't forget to search Google Books
- Newspapers often listed articles about deaths
- Online records sites like Ancestry, Footnote, World Vital Records, Heritage Quest...
- State Archives
- Submitted genealogies posted by others
- Tombstones usually give birth and death dates
Look for more detailed information in the Wiki under each State by clicking on the link for Vital Records.
- Ancestors at rest contains everything from death records, such as coffin plates, death cards, funeral cards, wills, church records, family bibles, cenotaphs and tombstone inscriptions.
- Ancestry.com ($) indexes & images
- Familytree connection ($) has a search any of the insurance records listed, however, a subscription is required to access all of the information.
- Record Search free indexes & images
- Footnote.com ($) index & images
- WorldVitalRecords ($) has a large array of databases.