Cause of a Person's Death

One item you would like to include in your family history is what each ancestor died of (if possible to locate). To help here are some ideas of how and where to look.

Start with any family Bibles. Listed would be when a person died but also might be what they died of. Next see if there was an obituary in the hometown newspaper, include locations the person lived for a long time, not just their birth location. If the ancestor died due to an accident, there could be an article in the newspaper where it occurred providing more details.

See if the state / county where the ancestor died has records. State death certificates but also some county’s kept death records. Contents of death certificates vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and some contain more useful information than others. Sometimes the death certificate will point you to an inquest. If the inquest files survive for your ancestor’s case, these can be fascinating. They will not only give a fuller description of the cause of death but often the circumstances surrounding it.

Influenza Epidemic 1918 – Policemen in Seattle, Washington, wearing masks made by the Seattle Chapter of the Red Cross, during the influenza epidemic. (National Archives)

Check also the church records for the church the ancestor or their family was a member of.

Find where the person was buried and check with burial records and the funeral home records, they may still exist.

A big hint – know when certain major weather events (earthquakes, storms,) occurred, disasters and especially check about wide-spread epidemics. See if such events happened the time frame and location your ancestor lived there. An excellent example was the worldwide spread of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. In different parts of the United States, it affects a large segment of the population. So many burials that even obituaries were not done and the death records were the bare minimum.

Another factor is which century. Before the 20th century, most people died due to accidents (explosions , machinery accidents) or diseases.

Photos: Epidemics, 1918-Spanish Flu; Family Bible listings and poet John Milton’s family Bible of the 1640s

Related Blogs:

Death Certificates

Death Record Sources

Ancestors Affected by Disasters

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