Finding Your Ancestor's Death Date

You would think locating the death date for an ancestor would be simple, well it can be difficult for some for several different reasons. One, the ancestor died in a different town, county, state or even country than they lived. Second, the person could have been moving around, not settled and their whereabouts not known to family members. Third, problems with name spellings, ages and even the ‘John Doe’ bodies police find.

So here are some places to assist you in finding that death date.

Always go through all newspapers from the hometown and even neighboring counties or states to see if there are any listings either as obituaries, accidents or those unknown found.

Check local hometown and home county city directories, especially for the year past when you think an ancestor passed away. Many times in city directories they list the resident and their death date. Also if there was a surviving widow or widower, it will state that, so you go back in directories to see when widow or widower is not used.

The social security death index is an excellent resource for finding information for individuals whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration. The SSDI will often give you the name of the individual, the social security number, their date of birth and date of death, their last place of residence, and the location of the last benefit payment.

Contact hometown cemeteries for what they have in their records or files for any similar name. Check all various name spellings.

Check with other living relatives if there are any family Bibles available and ask for copies of the records.

If the ancestor ever served in the US military, there will be some sort of record on the individual. They also note, when known, the person’s death date, especially if it was during military service. There could be pension records also with the military.

In the years 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1885 (in applicable states), the U.S. census included special mortality schedules which included the information for individuals who passed in the year immediately preceding the census enumeration. Some valuable information you may find include, name, age at last birthday, marital status, occupation, place of birth, month the person died, and cause of death – super important.

Try as many different sources as you can to gather the death date, using two or more to verify it is the correct date.

Photos: 1850-mortality-schedule example; headstones at Trinity Church Cemetery in New York; and Social Security Death Index.

Related FamilyTree Blogs:

Death Certificates for Each State

National Death Registers

Ancestor’s Cause of Death

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