Sources of Death Records

death records-aIt can be difficult to get an accurate death date, location and burial site on an ancestor. The following are a few suggestions of sources for death records.

First, check any family documents, journals, diaries, vital records or collection of newspaper obituaries saved. It can be easily overlooked to even go though those boxes of family photos. Right there might be a note on the back of a photo, an old newspaper obituary or a copy of a death certificate. Also the family Bible, see who might have one and have the handwritten recordings of family births-marriages and deaths copied for you. So do check what you or other relatives already have.

Second, if your relative served in the military in the United States there can be records there. Numerous military records are online at the National Archives. With the military records can be military pension applications and records, another good source.


Third, look up as many different hometown newspapers for obituaries. The town the person grew up in, where they lived for years and the town they died in. An obituary can be placed in many different newspapers, so try several.

Fourth, if your ancestor might have been a member of anyethnic, fraternal and religious organizations annually printed names and death dates and sometimes full-length obituaries for their members have been printed and archived. Groups such as Woman’s Club, Red Cross, Masons, Woodmen of the World (this is an excellent source), Elks, etc. are just a few such organizations.

Fifth, some vintage hospital records collections have ended up in archives and other repositories that you might be able to find by typing the place where your ancestor lived and the phrase “hospital records” into a search engine.

Philadelphia Death Record 1840

Sixth, during the years 1850 to 1880, federal censuses recorded names of people who had died during the 12 months prior to the regular decade census on separate mortality schedules. That is a real wealth of information if your ancestor’s name was recorded. If also provides what they died of, if known.

Seventh, using city directories has proved many times helpful to get an approximate date of when a person died. If the husband died, his name will still be listed with his wife’s name and she is listed as the ‘widow’. You keep checking different dates of city directories to where she is first listed a widow and go back one or two years to when he was still alive.

Keep looking and always try different sources, especially to see all the dates match to the numerous sources. There can be errors there, never go by the first source.

Additional link:

Vital Records


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