Death Records & Certificates

Genealogists seeking historical information on distant relatives often start with the death record. A death record (or death certificate) documents the date, location (city, state, and country) and cause of death of any given individual. Death records can also indicate surviving relatives.

These records, like marriage and birth documents, belong in the category of vital records and are indispensible tools in helping genealogists determine information about the lives of their predecessors. Originally, these records were utilized by the government as civil registration to help protect lives and freedoms.

You may choose to access death records during your genealogy research because they provide much more information than just the date of an individual's death. You may be able to learn about the location in which the person died (which can then send you on another journey that takes you to the individual's hometown), the immediate family members of the deceased, and the birth date of the individual.

When seeking a death record, keep in mind that this search may also take you to the cemetery in which the individual was buried, which can then provide you with cemetery records - a source of a considerable amount of information on the individual, including a headstone or marker location, an individual's religious affiliation and other personal information that is not included in a death record.

Official and Indexed Death Records

Official Death Records: Official death records are kept on file through each state's Department of Health and Vital Records. For a fee ranging between $12 and $20, you may be able to request these death records, although each state has different regulations regarding who can access official death records. Because each state maintains and releases their own vital records, including death records, each state will therefore have its own set of rules and regulations involving the release of these records, as well as the cost of releasing the records. And, although most states have online services for accessing vital records, some states require written requests or fax requests.

Search death records by state.

For example, some states, such as California, only allow an individual's immediate family to access death records, and indexed versions of death records are not made available to the general public. By securing the official death records through the government departments, you have greater validity and accuracy. In other words, your best route when obtaining death records should be through the particular state's vital records office.

Indexed Death Records: Indexed death records are easily available through different websites. While many of these websites will offer free information, how accurate the records are can be contested. If you would like to access accurate death records, consider paying a fee to utilize reliable genealogy websites.

An Illustrated Family History Begins With Vital Records

As a vital document, death records can help you trace your family's roots and history. This simple record can help you illustrate a story about each of your individual ancestors. Whether you are an archeologist or simply someone who wants to share her family history with future generations, death records are an excellent place to begin.

Helpful Tips

When looking at death certificates, keep in mind that the cause of death could potentially give you something else to research. For example, if your relative died in a fire, you might be able to find an article in a local newspaper that mentions the fire and your ancestor's name and possibly other relatives in the same fire. Also, in smaller geographic regions, newspapers often ran lengthy obituaries and provided keen insights into the lives of the individuals who died in their communities.

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