United States Death Records

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United States  >   U.S. Vital Records >  United States Death Records

Death Records

Many experts recommend starting your research with the death record first, instead of with a birth record. The death record is the most recent record making it more likely to be available to you. Death records are kept in the state where your ancestor died, not where they were buried, however these records can provide a burial location. Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person's birth, spouse, and parents. Some researchers look first for death records because there are often death records for persons who have no birth or marriage records.

Early death records, like cemetery records, generally give the name, date, and place of death. Twentieth-century certificates usually include the age or date of birth (and sometimes the place), race, length of residence in the county or state, cause of death, name of hospital and funeral home, burial information, and the informant's name (often a relative). They often provide the name of a spouse or parents. Since 1950, social security numbers are given on most death certificates. Birth and other information in a death record may not be accurate because the informant may not have had complete information.

Prior to death registers being recorded at the local county court house, a record of burial could be found in Church records. Church records are still a good place to find records of death. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database whose records reveal an individuals' full name and residence at time of application, birth and death dates and last known residence. For more information about the SSDI see the U.S. Social Security Records for Genealogists page. A death record is considered a primary source.

Death Certificates

The information on a death certificate is usually given by someone close to the ancestor called an informant. Death certificates may be filed in the state where an individual died and the state where he is buried. Other than the date, time and place of death, a death certificate is taken from the information known by the informant. This makes a death certificate a secondary source of information for things like the birth place and date, and the names of the deceased's parents.

For more information concerning death records by State see the Summary of Death Records in the United States by State page. To write for vital records see "Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces" [1]

Funeral home records are discussed in the “Cemeteries” page. The death records of men and women who died in the military, or who are buried in military cemeteries are described in the U.S. Military Records Research Page.

The Social Security Death Index contains over fifty million records of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration from 1937 to 1995. The bulk of the records are from 1962 and later. The index provides the deceased person's birth date, social security number, state where the social security card was issued, month and year of death, state of residence at death, zip code, and state where death benefit was sent.

Things you may find on a death certificate or record

  • Age at death
  • Cause of death
  • Date and/or place of birth
  • Date and/or place of burial
  • Details about the length of illness
  • Disposition of cremated remains
  • Exact time of death
  • How long in this country or location
  • Maiden name of deceased woman
  • Marital status at the time of death
  • Name of surviving spouse
  • Name (and sometimes address) of informant, frequently a surviving spouse, child or other close relative
  • Name and location of mortuary
  • Names of parents
  • Occupation and/or name of employer
  • Residence of the deceased
  • Religion
  • Signature of attending physician
  • Whether single, married, widowed or divorced
  • Witnesses at the time of death

How information from death records can help research

Dates; birth date and year of immigration can be listed. Places; birth place, address to help in the search for land records, city directories, locate on map and narrow un-indexed census'. Names; maiden, parent's, children, spouses, or witnesses help to find other relatives that you seek. The name of the cemetery and/or funeral home, leads to further information on you ancestor. If death is listed as an accident or killed, there might be a newspaper article about the individual. The mention of cause of death could develop a medical family history for your family.

Places to look for Death Records

See also: Summary of Death Records in the United States by State



  1. Leonard, Barry. Where to Write for Vital Records: Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces Published by DIANE Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1422314820, 9781422314821 . 47 pages. Full text is available at Google Books. Worldcat