How to Search for Death Records

Try to Find a Death Date

To obtain a death record for an ancestor, you need a death date. Here are several ways to find a death date.

1. Common Ways to Find a Death Date

The more common ways to find a death date includes a family story, a family bible, an obituary, a cemetery listing or headstone, a death index. The accuracy of a death date could vary. A family story could have an incorrect date. The date in a family bible, an obituary, cemetery listing/headstone, or a death index should be accurate. Census records can give only an approximate date. The way to use census records for a death date is when an ancestor appears in one census and then does not appear in the next census. That gives you a span of years to search. Usually that span is ten years.

2. Alternate Ways to Find a Death Date

If you do not have a family story, a family bible, or an obiturary, then the next best place to look is in a cemetery listing or a death index.

Option 1: Search online cemetery listings

  • Find A Grave
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Option 2: Search online death indexes

  • Ancestry.com
  • FamilySearch.org
  • Social Security Death Index
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3. A Way to Estimate a Death Date: Census Records

If you are unsuccessful using the above options, then you could try census records. Census records can give only an approximate date. If your ancesctor likely died between 1850 and 1940, you might be able to use the census to estimate up to a ten-year period for a death date. This involves finding a person in the census and then check the next census ten years later to see if the person is no longer listed. That may indicate the person died in the intervening period. This works best when there are multiple household members so that you can be sure you have the same group of people in each census. Of course, there are other reasons a person may not show up in the second census. For example, they may have simply moved. Nevertheless, the older a person happens to be, the more likely this technique might provide an estimate for a death date.

Use the Death Date to Obtain a Death Record or Certificate

Once you have a death date, you need to obtain the death record or certificate. Whether you should contact the county or state depends on the when the state started keeping this information at the state level. If you do not know the exact year your ancestor died, most government agencies will search only a ten-year period for each request. So it would be good to narrow the time period at much as possible before requesting a search.

  • Vitalrec.com has dates for when death records were kept by state or county.
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Additional Resources Related to Death Records

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