As genealogists a Death Certificate is our preferred original source for primary information about the death of an Ancestor. While some states have documented deaths for a long period of time it was not mandated by the U. S. Government until about 1900. By the mid-1930’s all states were collecting mortality information.
This large gap, from the birth of our nation and until 1900, is sometime troublesome for genealogist when looking for an ancestor death record.
This list was prepared to list some alternative sources of death dates for ancestors.
Death certificate: – Preferred document. Issued by the state at time of death.
· Tombstone: - If a death certificate is not found, the tombstone is probably the number 1 source for a death date. Do keep in mind that a tombstone is not a primary source record; it is a secondary source. It may have been placed shortly after a person death but it also may have been placed many years later. Regardless, if you are using a tombstone date as your death source it is a secondary source and should be confirmed by other documents.
· Sexton's Records: – Sexton Records are records that are maintained by the cemetery. Most likely the Sexton and the Sexton records will be found in the business office often on or near the cemetery grounds. Sexton records are primary records for burial; all other data most likely derivative in nature. I have had wonderful experiences using sexton records at big cemeteries in town. However, out in the rural areas of the south, which I am familiar with, there are no sextons at many of the small rural cemeteries. Often you will find that no cemetery records have been maintained.
· Funeral Home Records: - Records maintain by the Mortuary that handle the funeral. Very detailed, concise and well maintained. I have found that access to these records is restricted. Your experience may differ. I think most of the problems with access to mortuary records are identify theft and privacy issues.
· FindAGrave: – An on-line resource with memorials created by volunteers documenting the final resting place of millions of families and individuals. A priceless aid for genealogist and family history enthusiasts.
The Social Security Death Index:
Available on line at Ancestry.com. Comprehensive computerized Database created by the Social Security Administration from the Death Master File. Excellent source for individuals who have passed away since 1962 till now.
US Census Mortality Schedules:
Census mortality schedules can be found for all states for the years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. While limited in nature they do provide death dates for individuals who died in the year prior to the census being enumerated. Not all states are included and the death is listed if it occurred between 1 June of the previous year and 31 May of the Census years.
Funeral Church Bulletins: These are the bulletins handed out during a funeral ceremony. Can most likely be found on file in the church office.
Meetings Minutes: Minutes of meeting held by church officials.
Obituaries: - Today’s newspapers have a designated page for obituaries. Obituaries in most case are written by a family member in concert with a Funeral Home official who distributes the obituary to the local newspaper. Do keep in mind that prior to the 1960’s or maybe later there were no indexes on the front page and obituaries can be found throughout the newspaper.
Local News/Community News: - Oftentimes in older newspapers the death of an individual was printed in the local news section. In many of these newspapers you have more than one section dedicated to local news. Two of my great grandparent’s deaths were reported in local news section of a newspaper.
The Family Bible is always a good source for the birth and death of ancestors. Copies of family Bibles can be found in State Archives, Local Historical Society and State Libraries.
Estates: Estate folders are a great source for death date of an ancestor.
County Coroner’s Office:
The County Coroner handles deaths of individuals involved in criminal or other violent means; by suicide, or suddenly when in apparent health a person dies in a suspicious or unusual manner.
Land deeds can be used to determine about when your ancestor died. The sale of and division of an ancestor estate lands is a clear indication of his demise. This is also a good source of the identity of children and their spouses which are often named within a land division.
Tax list can be used to pinpoint when your ancestors drop off the tax rolls. If your ancestor drops off the tax rolls it may be because he died, or he may have moved to another county or the ancestor may have fell on hard times.
If you are aware of other sources where you have found death records for you ancestor; please post a short note with details or send me an e-mail.