Search Death Records
What are death records?
Death records are completed for every person who dies in the US, which make them a great tool for finding ancestors or tracking down missing family members. After all, birth records only exist if the parents bothered to register the birth and not everyone gets married, but if someone has passed away then it is guaranteed that a record will exist for them somewhere. This makes death records an invaluable source for genealogists, though you should be careful not to simply accept all the information contained within the death certificate as true without further investigation. After all, much of the information in death records will have been provided by a spouse or friend and they may have been given the wrong facts of the deceased.
Death records do contain a lot of information, not all of which will be useful to you, depending on the reason you are carrying out the death search for. All death certificates and records will contain the name of the deceased, along with their date and place of death. In many states death certificates contain more information about the circumstances surrounding their death, such as the cause of death, if known, the doctor who examined them and any witnesses who were present at the time. Sometimes these records can contain other vital clues for genealogists or other researchers, such as the name of their spouse, their place of birth and in some cases the names of their parents. This last piece of information usually only appears on children’s death certificates, though in some states it doesn’t appear at all, even in these tragic cases. The deceased’s current residence may be included, if different to the place of death. This is especially important if the person died in a different state to the one they reside on, for example while on vacation. If you are trying to track down relatives or research your family tree and see that someone died in Florida, you might assume they had lived there if it wasn’t for the inclusion of the extra piece of information that they actually lived in Washington! Some death certificate records also contain information about the burial, such as the funeral home where the body was taken and where the deceased was buried. Not all of this information will appear on every death certificate, but most will contain more details than just the name, date and place of death of the deceased.
Why search on death records?
There are several reasons why you might want to search on death records. If you are trying to research your family tree, then death certificates can be an invaluable source of all kinds of information about your ancestors, not just details about their death. Deaths are recorded and stored by each individual state, so it can be helpful to know where the person might have died before you start your search. Of course, they may have died while away from their home address, but most people will either die in the house or in a local hospital. Deaths on vacation do happen, but are still pretty rare when compared to the number of people who die locally.
If you are trying to track down a missing friend or family member and have had no success when searching marriage and birth records, you might have to start facing the possibility that the next step is to carry out a death search. This can be an unpleasant truth to face, but at least it would answer any questions you had about what happened to someone you used to know. If the person has been missing for some time, there is every chance that you will have no idea where they might have been living or might have died. In these cases, using one of the commercial online search websites might be a better alternative to spending hours or days searching through each individual state’s death records. These websites pull together all the available national information and carry out the search for you, saving you time, but often charging you a fee. Most genealogists see this as “cheating” and would much rather do all the research themselves.
In some rare cases you might carry out a death records search on someone who you think is still alive. Employers might be suspicious that an employee is not who they say they are, or a woman might be worried about a new partner. Carrying out a quick and simple online search in death records for their name and claimed date of birth might uncover the shocking realization that they have stolen someone’s identity. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often, but there have been some documented cases of living people stealing a deceased person’s identity for various reasons.
If a relative of yours has died, you might at some point be called upon to prove that they have passed away. If they owed money to a bank, you may well have to provide a copy of the death certificate to prove this. Similarly, many government organizations will need to see confirmation of the person’s death before they can be taken off official records. Perhaps as their next of kin you are being pursued for this debt or unpaid bills that accrued after the person died; in this case you would need to know where to get a death certificate so that you can present it to the company or public body making the demand. Copies of death certificates can be obtained from the Registrar-Recorder or County Clerk in counties and states across the US. As death certificates are public documents, you don’t even need to be a relative to get a copy of the record.
How to search on death records
As well as simply heading down to your county or state archives and getting your hands dirty in amongst their files, you can also search online for any deaths recorded after 1962. This is when deaths started to be documented on computer files. In some areas, they have started to transfer older death records onto computer systems too, but if you are researching your family tree and are looking for records from the 19th century, you may have to bite the bullet and start wading through all the paper files at your local archive. Many specialist genealogy sites have been set up which have these older records available online, but these will charge you a fee. If you are searching for a more recent death record and know the state in which the person died, you can simply use that state’s own online search facility. It becomes more complicated if you don’t know where the deceased was when they died. To help you get started, it might be worth using one of the commercial online sites, which will pull together information from all over the country and carry out the search for you. Many will carry out an initial search for free, only telling you if a record exists for that person, but if you want all the details or want to see the original document then they will charge you a fee.
The SSDI or Social Security Death Index is a great tool for searching on death records. In theory, the SSDI should contain details of the death records for everyone who had a social security number, although in some cases a person’s death was not reported to the Social Security Administration. The SSDI has an online search facility which allows you to enter what details you have about the deceased, or someone you think might be deceased and it will return any information it can find. This is free and provides information such as the person’s date of death and date of birth, the state where they were residing and the state where they died, if different. The other problem is that in the past not everyone had a social security number and it is only since 1988 that every child born in the US is automatically provided with one.
Searching local newspapers for their funeral notices and obituaries is another simple, yet effective way to find out basic information, such as the date of death and where the person was living when they died. Even the smallest local newspapers have websites these days, and many of them have search facilities. Simply input the name of the person you are looking for and see what hits come back. Of course, this method is far from perfect as it relies upon you knowing which newspapers to search and relatives might not have even bothered posting a death notice in the first place. However, it can be a very simple, quick and cheap way to get your search started.