Death Certificates and Online Indexes
A death certificate can provide important facts about a person's life — date and cause of death, date and place of birth, parents' names (including mother's maiden name), funeral home, burial location, and name of the informant who provided the information. Since about 1967, most death certificates in the United States also list the deceased's social security number. Actual details included on a death certificate vary from state to state and by time period.
Death certificates in the United States are primarily a twentieth-century innovation. Most states did not officially register deaths until after 1900; some, such as Georgia and New Mexico, began as late as 1919! There are a few exceptions, namely in New York, New Jersey, and the New England states, where recording of deaths began in the mid- to late 1800s. In the United States, death certificates are generally maintained at the state level, usually through the Department of Health or Vital Records.
Privacy laws may restrict access to death certificates for a certain period of time after the individual's death. A term of fifty years is fairly common. Some agencies will allow anyone to request a copy of a death certificate, but will black out certain more private information such as the cause of death or social security number unless you are a direct relative of the deceased. When requesting a death certificate from a vital records agency, be prepared to identify your relationship with the deceased and to provide a copy of a valid ID.
Death indexes are available online for many states, counties, and locations. Check first on the website of the state vital records office, state archives, and state library. The Ohio Historical Society, for example, includes an online Ohio Death Certificate Index, 1913 to 1944. The Illinois State Archives hosts the Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1913 to 1950. At the Minnesota State Archives website you can search an index for death certificates from 1908 to 2001. Genealogist Joe Beine organizes links to these and many other online death indexes at Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records (
The Historical Records collection at FamilySearch (
One last important online source for death information is the International Genealogical Index (IGI) at FamilySearch (