Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 3, Number 16 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 October 5, 2011
In this article we discuss sources for Death Records. There are many places to search out the older Death Records if you are not fortunate enough to have a family Bible with all the information listed. Hopefully, this article will give you several ideas of places to look for the missing piece in your family history puzzle.
It was also good to see several of you at the Ozarks Genealogical Society Conference in Springfield, Missouri a few weeks ago. We always enjoy meeting others that are researching their family history.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Douthat
Many times in our genealogical research, we are trying to find the death records of one or more of our ancestors. This can be a daunting task as many of these items were never recorded. Most states did not start recording death certificates until after 1912 while a few states began as early as 1908. If your research goes back into Virginia/West Virginia/Kentucky, you will find that these three states requested the county court clerks have a book for “Deaths” beginning in 1853. The recording of the births or deaths was on a volunteer basis, but citizens were urged to provide these records. If you are lucky enough to find one of your ancestors in these records, there is a gold mine of information with parents, and sometimes grandparents listed, the locations of where the family was living at the time and the date of the birth/death. However, it is rare to find this information for your research.
To pin down the death of our ancestors, the best source for the information is the family Bible. While it is the best source, it is sometimes the hardest source to find. There was usually only one Bible and tracking it down can be difficult. In my family, I knew there was a Bible and I traced it down to a line of the family that had gone extinct by the early 1900s and then we lost track of the Bible. The last we knew, it was in a bank vault somewhere in west Tennessee. My grandmother had the contents of the names, dates, etc. of some, but not directly from the Bible. One day I received an email from a fellow in New England concerning a family Bible he had but knew nothing about, except that it contained “Douthat” names in it. He scanned the pages and sent them to me. How amazing to find the Bible after forty years of looking!
To be of help, the Tennessee State D.A.R. gathered Bible records a couple of years ago and made available a huge index of the names and the images of the original pages with a transcription of those pages. This is one of the finest collections on a state basis that I have seen. There are Bibles from every corner of the state and beyond as the members searched out their local areas for the records. Many thanks go out to these ladies for their tireless efforts in preserving the Bible records.
Another source of death data can be found in newspapers. Many of the early papers have been microfilmed especially by the journalism department of the state universities and the state archives. You can check with your local genealogical library as to the source for the area you are looking into for your research. The typical obituary is a late entry into the newspaper world, but the death of local citizens is nothing new, especially if the individual had some local significances.
Don’t forget the local funeral home records. Most of them have their records back to the beginning of their business. In many cases, one funeral home bought out another older one and may have the older records as well.
Many cemeteries have their own records located in an office somewhere and you don’t have to spend days walking from grave to grave. In those states were the W.P.A. program included cataloging of cemeteries, this work was done in the late 1930s. These records are especially helpful when there was only a funeral home marker on the grave. Since these markers have probably been lost or destroyed since the 1930s, you have a record of the information. Keep in mind that in the case of small older cemeteries, the whole cemetery could now be lost.
Military pension files often give information on the death of the soldier. When the widow applied for a pension, she generally had to prove her marriage to the soldier and when he served and when he died. This type of information helps to fill in a lot of blanks in your history of the family. In the case of one of wife’s ancestors, the widow received as little as $8.00 per month as a pension yet they still had information on the family. He was in the “Cherokee War”, which was not a war at all, but only the guard action in the removal west of the Cherokee. Her application gave the family history a real boost with facts that were nowhere else to be found.
Just remember that most deaths are recorded after the fact. This means that different persons might be giving the information and their memory might not be “right on target”. If you find that you have different dates, keep both until you can verify which is more likely to be correct. You may never pin the exact date down, but you can only do your best.
Tennessee Bible, Cemetery and Tombstone Records
Virginia and West Virginia Death Records
Kentucky Death Records
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