I’ve found records of deaths in probate records, obituaries, cemetery records, and even a state gazetteer!
Trust me, you will want to find all the records if they exist because each may give you more clues about your ancestor.
Here’s some things you can do to find death records:
First, go to the FamilySearch Wiki for the state where your ancestor died and read about the availability of death records for that state. If the state has vital records online, that should be your starting place because many of these records are the actual digitized copies of the record. Some are only indexed, but it still gives you a starting place.
On the FamilySearch Wiki put the “[name of the state] vital records” in the search box, i.e. Missouri Vital Records.
I can’t stress how much this FamilySearch Wiki is so valuable. If you skip this step, you may be sorry, because it may point you to places to find the sources you seek.
With so much available online today, it makes more sense to first search the online collections because they are sometimes made up of a variety of records, not just vital records. That said, if the online record is just an index or extraction, you should try to get a copy of the original because it may have more information, or the extraction may have been done incorrectly.
- State Online Records – Some states have posted their death records online. For instance, the Missouri State Archives has some death certificates online. Go online to the state archives of your ancestor’s death and see if they have made some records available online. Here’s a photocopy for the actual death certificate for John Belcher Weymer who died in 1910.
- FamilySearch.org – This Historical Records Collection is organized by locality, so you should search by the state where the death occurred. There is no charge to search this collection.
- Social Security Death Index (Ancestry.com) – This is an index of persons who collected Social Security who’s death was reported to the state. If the person had a different form of retirement and didn’t collect Social Security, they will not be found in this database. Ninety-eight percent of the people in this index died beginning in 1962. A few date back to 1937, nothing before that date. The Social Security Death Index is FREE for searching today through October 15, 2011, so search it while you can!
- World Vital Records – Search by locality.
- Ancestry.com – Search by locality.
- Mortality (census) Schedules (Ancestry.com) – if a person died in the twelve months before the census was taken in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1885, they should be listed in the mortality schedule. Most mortality schedules list the name, age, sex, color, if widowed, place of birth (by state), month of the death, occupation, and number of days sick. The parent’s birthplaces are included in the 1870, and the 1880 has a little more information. Horatio J. Gleason died at Cortlandville, New York, on 3 May 1860. He was named on the 1860 Mortality Schedule for Cortland County, NY. This record reveals that he was born in Massachusetts, a mason, and died from cancer.
- USGenWeb by locality for state, county, and town records
- Probate Records – Some probate records are available online at the county website or at Sampubco.com.
- Cemetery Records check USGenWeb, BillionGraves, FindAGrave, Interment.net.
- Obituaries – Check the Online Historical Newspapers website, GenealogyBank, World Vital Records, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, and Newspaper Abstracts.
If you cannot find a record online, you may have to order it from the state or search the county records:
- VitalRec.com – This is a source for getting vital record certificates from the states. On this site, first determine if vital records are available for the state for that time period. If yes, order a copy of the certificate. Ask for a photocopy, not a transcript of the record. If no, the record may be at the county or town level.
- Vital Records at the county level – Check the Family History Library Catalog for the county.
- Probate Records are usually at the county level. There are some exceptions, so read about the county to understand how they organized their probate jurisdictions. Check the Family History Library Catalog for the county.
I’ve given you enough to keep you busy for a while, so go find that cat! Happy Hunting!
Note: After I posted this blog, Connie Moretti added this comment: “Another excellent site to search is Linkpendium.com They often have links to local libraries, historical societies and cemeteries that can be difficult to find elsewhere.”