Home > Guide to Death Records
Death records may be necessary documents to find and retrieve for a number of reasons. A death certificate may be required by the executor of the estate or the surviving spouse to gain access to financial or real estate assets. These records may be needed to carry out the plans of the will or even to make the final arrangements at the funeral home. Those who are tracing their family trees may be on the hunt for death records online as a part of their research project. No matter what your reason is for wanting death records, there are plenty of resources available to help you find the documents you are looking for and make the copies needed.
Types of Death Records
Death records come in two basic types: official death certificates and death indexes. Death certificates are issued at the time of the death, and include all of the information about the deceased, including a cause of death. Because these records typically contain more sensitive information, such as medical records, access to them may be restricted by the state. These official documents are typically the ones that are needed to conduct legal business on behalf of the deceased, such as managing financial affairs or real estate transactions.
Death indexes are online public records that contain just the basic information about the deceased. Because potentially sensitive information is left off these records, they are usually accessible by the general public. In fact, online public records often include death indexes. This allows interested individuals to find the information they are looking for on the Internet and even download and print the documents at no additional cost.
Information Found in Records
Death records vary slightly from state to state. Although federal law requires states to now keep official records on everyone who dies in the state, it is left up to the state government to determine what that public record will look like and what information will be included. It is also the decision of the state as to where the death records will be stored and who should be able to access them.
As a general rule, death records will include the full name of the deceased, date and location of death and cause of death. Other possible information that might be found in this document includes the names of immediate family members, a date of birth on the individual and the last known address for the deceased. Signature of the coroner or doctor that declared the death might also be on the document.
Locations for Death Records
Death records are typically held at a variety of locations. In fact, some states may file death records at both local and state offices, as well as through online sources. The most common place to find death records is through the health department for the state. In some cases, county clerk’s offices may also keep death records, especially those that date back to prior to the state health department’s collection. State archives are another good option for death records searches, especially for those that date back a century or more. If you are unsure of where to begin your search for death records, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Restriction to Death Records Access
The majority of states restrict access to official death records, since they contain sensitive and private information like medical history and cause of death. This restriction lasts for anywhere from 50 to 100 years after the date of death in most states that have such rules. At the end of the window, death records become a matter of public record, which is good news for those conducting a genealogy search and hoping to learn more about family members through these public records. Death indexes are also available at any time, which provide the name of the deceased, and the date and location of the death.
Online Death Records Search
The good news about death records is that many of them can be searched online. Some states offer their own online services for public records searches. There are also online archive services that allow you to search for any type of vital record right from the comfort of home. In many cases, you only need to have the full name and location of the individual to find the information you are looking for. However, the more information you can provide for your public records search, the more accurate your search results will be. Online searches typically offer free public records that can be downloaded on your computer. However, if you need official document copies, you typically need to request them directly from the office where they are filed, and there is a fee for the document.