Death Records Search Example for Ancestor Research

Interviewing Family Members

In 2011, I visited my mother's cousin LaRane in St. Paul, Minnesota several times to gather information on that side of my family. (My mother died in 2007. So, LaRane was one of the fewremaining people from that generation whom I could interview.) At one of the visits, LaRane's younger sister was there with with a baptismal record that contained what turned out to be a surprise clue for a family member no one knew existed.

Starting With a Death Record Based on a Known Death Date

Before we get to the surprise discovery, let's start with the family members I knew. I was already in the process of getting more information using death records at the time I visited LaRane. The death record for my great-grandfather Andrew was quite easy to obtain. Family records showed his death date was April 17, 1938 in North Dakota. By 1938, North Dakota was maintaining death records at the state level. So, I searched the North Dakota Death Index and ordered the certificate shown below.

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Andrew Otterberg Death Record
Andrew Otterberg Death Record

Using an Obituary to Find a Death Record

Andrew was my mother's grandfather. She had saved Andrew's obituary. It mentioned that he had a brother Peter living in Helena, Montana. So, assuming Peter continued to live in Montana, I searched for him There was only one Peter Otterberg in Montana. He died in 1941. Other entries at showed that his wife was Anna, which matched other family records I had. Starting in 1907, Montana kept death records at the state level. Here is the death certificate I ordered from Montana.

Peter Otterberg Death Record
Peter Otterberg Death Record

Now for the Surprise

The baptismal record LarRane's younger sister listed Olof Otterberg as a sponsor. No one knew who he was. To find out took some searching. I found an Oluf Otterberg in the 1900 U.S. Census for Moody County, South Dakota and in 1910 for an Ole Otterberg in the same location. Andrew Otterberg also lived in Moody County at those times. So, it is possible that Ole/Oluf in the censuses was the Olof Otterberg in the baptismal record. I searched for Olof Otterberg with a death location of South Dakota. There was only one entry for an Ole Otterberg who died in 1911 and there was a link to Find A Grave. At that link I found this obituary:

Ole Otterberg Obituary
Ole Otterberg Obituary

Validating this Obituary

Note that brothers Andrew of North Dakota and Peter of Montana are mentioned at the end of the obituary. This validates that this is obituary relates to our family. As a result, our family learned that Andrew and Peter had a brother who had been forgotten, probably because he died earlier than his brothers and had no children.

Death Record for Ole Otterberg

Starting in 1905, South Dakota kept death records at the state level. Here is the death certificate I ordered from South Dakota for Ole Otterberg:

Olaf Otterberg Death Record
Olaf Otterberg Death Record

The Problem With Names of Parents on Death Records

Take a look at the names of parents on the above three death records. They are inconsistent. This is a common problem with death reocrds. Often those names are either missing, mispelled, or simply wrong. The reason is that the person reporting the death may not be knowledgeable about the parents. It is important to find a way to verify the parent information on death records.

Finding the Correct Names for the Parents

More recently, I worked with a second cousin in Denmark and a friend of his in Sweden to locate Swedish Household Records in Sk?ne, Sweden for this family. Here is the Gluggstorp record from 1877 through 1866. All three brothers are listed. In the Swedish record, Andrew is Andreas and Peter is Per. I also learned from this that the names of my second great-grandparents are Sven Svensson Otterberg and Gunilla Nilsdotter. Compare those names to the parents' names on the death records above. It just shows that you cannot always accept all the information on death records as accurate. It depends on who provided the informaton.

Otterberg Swedish Household Record
Otterberg Swedish Household Record

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