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Using Death Records in Genealogy

Aug 18, 2007
Death records can provide vital clues to create a family tree. Using these documents and others such as birth or marriage records, you can trace much of the path of an ancestor through history.

Genealogy should include accurate information on birth and death dates, unions, children, as well as the locations of each event. Death records can give the answers to many questions.

Modern death records for the United States can be located through the Social Security Death Index. This Index is fully searchable online at no charge. From the Social Security Death Index you can find the birth date, Social Security Number and state of issue, death date and last residence of your past family member.

To search the Social Security Death Index, simply input as much information as you have. It is possible to search only by last name, thereby finding those of everyone who shares a particular surname. This can be useful in starting research on a possible ancestor about whom you know very little or finding a whole new branch of your history.

If you are seeking death records from another country or pre-1960s United States ones, you will have to go through alternative sources. If you know the town and approximate year in which your ancestor died, try contacting that town's offices.

You may be able to get information on how to proceed. Also try contacting genealogical societies both locally and online. Some societies publish their own databases of death records and other vital records. These sources are generally based on the members' research and may not be 100% accurate, so use caution and document your sources carefully.

The death records of women can be difficult to track down because during certain periods of time and in different locations, women were considered property. They belonged to husbands and fathers, and some had no documented evidence of significant events in her life.

The same problem may arise with a male ancestor, but checking prison records, probate, military or school records might turn up the appropriate information on date of death.

Family trees often require some guesswork and estimates to fill in blanks regarding areas where missing death records would provided confirmed data. Jews, Gypsies, slaves, and other people who were persecuted may not have a distinct paper trail of their lives.

Should you find yourself unable to track down exact information, move on and fill in as much of a family tree as possible. You may find the missing ones later on or discover enough information to fill in the gaps with reasonable accuracy.
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