How to Find California Death Records

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United States
U.S. Vital Records
How to Find U.S. Death Records
California Vital Records
How to Find California Death Records

Statewide registration of deaths began in 1905 with general compliance by 1920.

Next Step: When did the death occur?

Choose a time period to search for your ancestor's death record:

Learn more about U.S. Death Records

Deaths before 1905

Before 1905, some counties in California kept death records. Search the following databases to see if your ancestor's death record was included. If not, you will need to search substitute records to locate your ancestor’s death date and place.

Try 1st:
California, County Births and Deaths Records, 1800-1994 at FamilySearch.org Free; index & images of county death records from county courthouses.
Next try:
California, Death and Burial Records from Select Counties, 1873-1987 at Ancestry.com ($); Free at family history centers. Index and images of California death and burial records provided by the California State Archive.
Can't find your ancestor in the online index? Tips for searching online indexes
  Other records that give death information:
Cemetery Records
Newspapers
Probate (wills, etc)
Tax Records
Church Records
Census
Bible Records


Deaths after 1905

Statewide registration of births began in 1905 with general compliance by 1920. The Vital Records office of the California Department of Public Health has copies of deaths from 1905 to present day.

STEP ONE: Find Death Information

For deaths that exist during this time period, try the following database.

California Death Databases - Includes Indexes and Images
Try 1st:
1800 - 1994 - At FamilySearch.org Free; images of county death indexes, certificates, registers, and coroner's inquests.
Try 2nd:
1905 - 1939 - At FamilySearch.org Free; images of an index of death records created by the Office of the State Register, Sacramento. Also on Ancestry.com ($), free at family history centers.
Try 3rd:
1940 - 1997 - At FamilySearch.org Free; index of death records created by the California Department of Health Services. Also on Ancestry.com ($), free at family history centers.
Try 4th:
California, Death and Burial Records from Select Counties, 1873-1987 at Ancestry.com ($); Free at family history centers. Index and images of California death and burial records provided by the California State Archive.
Social Security Death Index
Can't find your ancestor in the online index? Tips for searching online indexes

STEP TWO: Obtain the Certificate

To Order Death Certificates
County Registrar and Recorder offices Vital Records office of the California Dept of Public Health
Pros Cons Pros Cons
May be less expensive and faster than ordering from the state County websites can be more difficult to use Has an expedited service on Vital Chek May be more expensive than ordering from the county


Restrictions for death certificates:
To obtain an authorized copy of the death certificate, you must be:

  • The decedent's spouse, parent, child, grandchild, or sibling
  • A legal party (attorney, law enforcement or representative of the government) with authorization or court order
  • The legal custodian, guardian, or authorized representative of the person named on the record
  • An individual who orders the certificate in behalf of an individual in the above categories

NOTE: An authorized copy of the death certificate cannot be obtained by anyone except those listed above. If you cannot obtain an authorized copy, you may order an informational copy.


If you do not want to order the death record, there are other records with death information you can search.

Return to top: Choose another death year


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