United States Death Records

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How to Find United States Vital Records

1. U.S. Birth Records
2. U.S. Marriage Records
3. U.S. Death Records

Kentucky death certificate amanda pitt.jpg


How to Find Death Records[edit | edit source]

To find a death record, choose the state the death occurred:

What if you don't know the state? — Go to How to Estimate Death Information

Social Security Death Index (SSDI)[edit | edit source]

The "Social Security Death Index" is a database created from the Social Security Administration's Death Master File and the only nationwide death index available. This is an index of deceased individuals whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. It has been kept since 1962, when operations were computerized. The index includes a few deaths from 1937 to 1961, about 50 percent of deceased persons from 1962 to 1971, and about 85 percent of deceased persons from 1972 to 2005.

The Social Security Administration updates the Death Index monthly. However, every website has a different schedule for updating their databases. Therefore, what you find at one site may not be available at another site.

Death Records[edit | edit source]

Many experts recommend starting your research with the death records first. The death record is the most recent record, so it will more likely be available to you. Death records are kept in the state where your ancestor died, not where they were buried. However these records can provide a burial location. Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person's birth, spouse, and parents. Some researchers look first for death records because there are often death records for persons who have no birth or marriage records.

Early death records, like cemetery records, generally give the name, date, and place of death. Twentieth-century certificates usually include the age or date of birth (and sometimes the place), race, length of residence in the county or state, cause of death, name of hospital and funeral home, burial information, and the informant's name (often a relative). They often provide the name of a spouse or parents. Since 1950, social security numbers are given on most death certificates. Birth and other information in a death record may not be accurate because the informant may not have had complete information.

Prior to death registers being recorded at the local county court house, a record of burial may be found in Church records. The United States Social Security Administration Records is a database whose records reveal an individuals' full name and residence at time of application, birth and death dates and last known residence. For more information about the SSDI see the United States Social Security Administration Records wiki page. A death record is considered a primary source.

Death Certificates[edit | edit source]

The information on a death certificate is usually given by someone close to the ancestor called an informant. Death certificates may be filed in the state where an individual died and also in the state where he is buried. Other than the date, time and place of death, all other information on a death certificate is taken from what is supplied by the informant. This makes a death certificate a secondary source of information for things like the birth place and date, and the names of the deceased's parents.

For more information concerning death records by State see the United States Vital Records Wiki page listing links to each state's vital records page. To write for vital records see "Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces" [1]

Funeral home records are discussed in the Cemeteries wiki page. The death records of men and women who died in the military, or who are buried in military cemeteries are described in the U.S. Military Records Research Page.

Social Security Death Index contains records of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration since 1935. The bulk of the records are from 1962 to the present. The index provides the deceased person's birth date, social security number, state where the social security card was issued, month and year of death, state of residence at death, zip code, and state where death benefit was sent.

Information you may Find on a Death Certificate or Record[edit | edit source]

  • Age at death
  • Cause of death
  • Date and/or place of birth
  • Date and/or place of burial
  • Details about the length of illness
  • Disposition of cremated remains
  • Exact time of death
  • How long in this country or location
  • Maiden name of deceased woman
  • Marital status at the time of death
  • Name of surviving spouse
  • Name (and sometimes address) of informant, frequently a surviving spouse, child or other close relative
  • Name and location of mortuary
  • Names of parents
  • Occupation and/or name of employer
  • Residence of the deceased
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Signature of attending physician
  • Whether single, married, widowed or divorced
  • Witnesses at the time of death

Interpreting Cause of Death[edit | edit source]

To interpret a cause of death you can

  • Consult a list of old medical terms such as the ones provided here, here, and here.
  • Use a search engine such as Google or Bing. Search engines will often recognize spelling errors and search for the correct term.
  • Use the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to interpret the code located on the death certificate. The ICD was first published in 1893. Version 10 (which went into effect in October 2015) is currently in use. Use the version that corresponds with the year the death was recorded. Learn more about using the ICD here and here. Copies of all versions can be accessed here.

How Information from Death Records can Help Research[edit | edit source]

Dates: birth date and year of immigration can be listed.
Places: birth place, address to help in the search for land records, city directories, locate on map and narrow un-indexed censuses.
Names: maiden, parent's, children, spouses, or witnesses help to find other relatives that you seek. The name of the cemetery and/or funeral home, leads to further information on you ancestor. If death is listed as an accident or killed, there might be a newspaper article about the individual. The mention of cause of death could develop a medical family history for your family.

To learn how to use death records effectively, click here.

Places to look for Death Records[edit | edit source]

See also: Substitute Records For United States Death Information.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. Leonard, Barry. Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces Published by DIANE Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1422314820, 9781422314821 . 47 pages. Full text is available at Google Books and Worldcat