Why No Death Certificate



It can be a bit frustrating when you can not find any record or certificate or even obituary for an ancestor’s death. There can be some logical reasons why there is no death record that you have found yet. If you look at some possible reasons why you might not find it, then you have a chance of locating it.

Reason first is the spelling of a name. If it was handwritten, the person (a county clerk) may have misspelled the name or the handwriting is hard to make out. Next, the ancestor’s family may have used the person’s nickname rather than the legal given names you are searching. Some nicknames are fairly easy to figure out but others can be way different. There is ‘Dick’ for Richard, ‘Beth’ for Elizabeth, etc, but your ancestor might have been nicknamed ‘Lucky’ and his real given name was Roy. Here is a link by USGenWeb to a long list of nicknames for males and females.

The ladies’ names can be a real problem. Some obituaries or death certificates can have the woman’s husband full name, such as “Mrs. Henry W. Johnston” instead of her given names of Sarah Ellen Johnston. So do check under a husband’s name also. That includes if the woman was married more than one time. A death certificate could have been made out in her first married name rather than her second husband, especially if the second husband was no longer living.

Name check also using just the ancestor’s initials, many just used the initials of their given names, which can be difficult if you do not know the middle name. Some people used solely their middle name and rarely the first name.

Counting on headstones in cemeteries being 100% accurate is not always a given. Many a name, birth / death date on a headstone are known to be wrong. A permanent mistake.

Location is another factor when trying to locate a death record or obituary. Even if they lived for decades in a certain hometown or county, they could have died in a neighboring county or state or even further away – many states away from the home state.

Keep in mind the required state or county death certificates did not come about until closer to the late 1800s or into the 20th century. So an ancestor dying about 1859, more than likely there was never an official document.

Photos: Headstone of Bann Franklin-1887; obituary with husband’s name; and various documents including burial records, death certificates.

Related FamilyTree Blogs:

Online Death Record Indexes for States

National Death Registers

An Ancestor’s Cause of Death

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