Collecting Death Certificates–Payoffs and Pitfalls

by , under Death Records, Online Research, Vital Records

Who, what, where and when are key questions that are answered by genealogical records. In the following discussion, we are adding two more questions: why and how.

Who to collect death certificates for:

● Direct ancestors are a top priority.

● Ancillary ancestors are a second priority.

● Obtaining death certificates is becoming more costly. You probably will have to be selective.

What are death records?

● The event in question is a person’s death.

● A death certificate officially documents a person’s death.

● It is recorded by a health department in a local jurisdiction

● Most states required preparing a death certificate beginning early in the 20th century.

● Before death certificates, death records document a person’s death but contain less information.


● You should know where the death occurred.

● Most death certificates are recorded at the county level.

● Some jurisdictions, such as cities, also have agencies that perform recording of death certificates


● This is one of the questions that can be answered by a death certificate

● You can obtain a death certificate within days of a death today

● In Ohio, after 1867, a death record may exist.

● After 1908, there should be a certificate.

● Dates for other states vary.

Why collect death certificates?

● You can gain information about the following from death certificates:

  • Legal name (first, middle and last).
  • Sex.
  • Age.
  • Race.
  • Social Security Number.
  • Date and place of death.
  • Date and place of birth.
  • Most up-to-date address (state, county, city, street address and zip code).
  • Marital status at the time of death.
  • Surviving spouse’s name if applicable (note, if surviving spouse is a wife, the maiden name must be provided).
  • Family history (mother and father’s names, mother’s maiden name).
  • Occupation and type of industry in which the deceased worked.
  • Family history (mother and father’s names, mother’s maiden name).
  • Military involvement (branch, type of discharge, dates served) or copy of DD214.
  • Name of doctor.
  • Informant name, relationship, and address.

● A death certificate may be required for heritage or lineage society applications.

How to find and acquire death certificates includes a couple of steps:

● Check for On-Line death indexes.

Check for available indexes.

Search on

Search on

● Start by searching for decedents in indexes.

● Then write or visit state or local health departments or vital statistics departments. When writing, use an official request form if possible. Check for one on-line.

● If you don’t have an official form, provide decedent’s complete name, and as much other information as possible. Remember, searches cost extra. is a resource for ordering death and other vital records online.


● Death certificates contain much primary and secondary information

● Primary information, such as date of death and burial, should be accurate.

● You may learn information that adds to what you already know, e.g. an immigrant’s home town, or his or her parents’ names.

● Collecting death certificates may be important for constructing a family health history.

● Consult Cyndi’s List for medical dictionaries —


● Some information on a death certificate—especially secondary information—may not be accurate or correct.

● Secondary information includes birth details, names of parents.

● Secondary information should be confirmed with other sources whenever possible.

● In some cases, the informant will state: “Don’t know.”

Causes of Death

● Entered by physician or other medical person.

● In case of accident or crime, a coroner may enter the cause of death

● Some death certificate images have numbers hand-written on them

● These are IDC codes for compiling causes of death by disease

Researching IDC Code Numbers

● Go to the following URL for a table of IDC code numbers

then click on the link for the most relevant Code Revision.

Other Resources

How to Find Ohio Death Records Wiki

Detailed discussion of death certificate resources on FamilySearch and other repositories

Death Certificates in Cuyahoga County

Cleveland Department of Public Health

75 Erieview Plaza, Cleveland, OH 44114

Phone: 216 664-2324

Death Certificates in Ohio
Ohio Department of Health
Center for Vital and Health Statistics
246 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone: 614-466-2531

Ohio Death Index

Ohio Department of Health Death Certificates, 1913-1944, 1954-1963

Ohio History Connection
800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43211-2474

Phone: 614.297.2300

How to Fill Out a Death Certificate in Ohio

Busch Funeral and Crematory Services


Phone: 1-800-252-8724

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