The Archive Lady shares her “Top 5 Death Records” for genealogy research and shares her tips and tricks for locating them!
John in Louisiana asks: “I have been following your advice for years now and I would like to know the top 5 death records you would suggest every genealogist should try to find for each of their ancestors.”
I am so glad John asked this question. I really like the fact that he recognizes that there could be more than one death record out there for each of our ancestors. So many genealogists think if they can find one record per life event, that’s all they need. Well, in some cases that maybe all there is but in many other cases, we can find multiple documents to prove a particular life event. The more we can find to prove a date and place of an event, the better.
When it comes to death records for our ancestors, there are several types of death records that could be located if they survive and can be found in an archive. Here are my top 5 death records that I think every genealogist should try to get for each of their ancestors:
The death certificate is an obvious first choice when searching for death records. Many genealogists search for their ancestor’s death certificate to prove the date and place of death, parents’ names, cause of death and other pertinent information that can be found on death certificates. If your ancestor died before official death certificates were issued, then it is important to find other sources to document your ancestor’s death.
Alva Philmore Drummond Death Certificate, Ohio Death Certificates
Newspaper Obituary/Death Notices
Many of our ancestors’ families had obituaries or death notices published in the local newspaper. Obituaries can be full of family information and should always be something on your “most wanted” list. Obituaries could contain a lot of the same information found on a death certificate. They can contain names of next of kin, family members who have died previously and other pieces of information about the decedent that we can add to their life story.
Alva Philmore Drummond Obituary, Gallipolis Daily Tribune, January 10, 1929
Funeral Home Records
Once a death certificate and obituary are located many genealogists stop there. But there are more records that could be found. Funeral homes are source for records that can contain great genealogical information. I have had very good success in obtaining funeral home records over the years and I have found information in them not found on the death certificate or obituary. A trick that I use is to send an actual typed letter request in the postal mail and I include a self-addressed stamped envelope. This makes it easy for the funeral home to mail the information back to me.
Many genealogists do not realize that cemetery records are a separate record from funeral home records. Many cemeteries have an office on-site and they have records we can access or request. Cemetery records can help us locate the grave of our ancestor and they can also tell us if there are other family members buried in the same cemetery.
Old Mission Cemetery Interment Records, Wyandot County, Ohio
After you have searched for a death certificate, obituary, funeral home records and cemetery records, don’t forget to search for probate records. These records are in the probate court and could contain several separate records which could include a last will and testament, administrator appointments, estate inventory and estate sales. Even if your ancestor didn’t leave a will, their estate could still have been probated in the courts and there could be valuable records to be found.
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If you only have one of these five records for your ancestors, I encourage you to search for the other death records to help you obtain a complete picture of the end of an ancestor’s life. Not only will it give you proof of their death information, but these records may also give you information on other family members. Telling our ancestors’ complete story, including their death stories, should be a goal to accomplish.
If you have a question for The Archive Lady, please send them via email and I could use your archival question in an upcoming edition of The Archive Lady column. Melissa Barker, a.k.a. The Archive Lady E-Mail: email@example.com
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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