Substitute Records For United States Death Information

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For most of the United States, official death certificates were not recorded on a state level until after 1900. Some counties recorded deaths earlier. Other records are used to locate death information when death records do not exist.

Use these substitute records to locate death information about your ancestor:
United States Social Security Administration Records
  • The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) can include the death date of the deceased although sometimes it's just the month and year of death.
  • The SSDI also will list the place the death benefit was sent. This may or may not be the place of death
  • How to find the Links to Social Security Death Index
Security Applications and Claims Index
Cemetery Records
  • Tombstone inscriptions include the death year and sometimes the complete death date
  • Some cemeteries have sexton records which include additional information about the deceased
  • Many cemetery inscriptions have been published online.
  • To obtain an obituary, often the exact date of death is required.
  • However, some counties/cities have indexes to obituaries to help you locate them.
  • How to find obituaries
  • Newspapers may contain death notices that include the name of the deceased and their date and place of death.
  • Some counties/cities have indexes to death notices.
  • How to find newspapers
Probate Records, including wills, distributions, inventories, etc.
  • Probate records before 1900, usually do not record the exact date of death. However, the will or administration often was recorded by the court not long after the death.
  • After 1900, wills and administrations often include the date and place of death.
  • Probate records including wills and administrations are usually kept at the county courthouse. Many probate records before 1920 have been microfilmed and are available at state or local archives where the probate was filed and some are published online.
Tax Records
  • In the 1700 and 1800s, tax records may imply death of an individual. Sometimes they will list "deceased" beside the name on the tax list.
  • If the name of an individual no longer shows up on a subsequent year of a tax list, it either indicates the individual: moved, died, or reached an age of exemption from taxes (about 60 years old).
  • Tax records may be at county courthouses, local or state archives, and on microfilm at the Family History Library.
City Directories
  • City directories are usually only found in large cities
  • City directories may state that the individual died since the last printing of the city directory by either indicating "deceased" or listing the spouse as a "widow" or "widower".
  • Many city directories are being published online
Church Records
  • Some denominations include death date and place in burial records
  • Some denominations include the deceased's age in burial records
  • How to locate church records
Census Mortality Schedules
  • Mortality schedules were taken by the census bureau during the enumerations of the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 Censuses.
  • The deaths listed on the schedules were for deaths occurring 1 year previous to the date of enumeration. For example, in 1850 deaths were recorded from 31 May 1849 to 1 June 1 1850.
  • Mortality schedules gave the individual's name, age, race, marital status, and cause of death. Slaves were often included on mortality schedules.
  • All mortality schedules have been indexed and images are online at (At
Family Bible Records
  • Death dates and sometimes places can be included in the front of family Bible
  • Family Bible records can be located at local libraries and repositories. Some are published on websites.