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Page last updated on 3 Jun 2014

Death Records

Death Certificates, Burial Certificates, Mortuary Records, Coroner’s Records, Cemetery Records, Obituary Collections

Death Certificates

Like birth records, death records were not gathered by the state until the fall of 1905. Unlike birth records, however, death records are more likely to be found for earlier years at the county and city level. Even when death certificates were not required you might find official burial records. When used in conjunction with mortuary records, cemetery records, coroner’s files and obituaries the likelihood of finding death information for your ancestors is much higher than finding birth records.

Copies of original death certificates are filed with the county recorder. [name, residence, sex, race, date of birth, age, occupation, marital status, and birthplace of deceased, names and birthplaces of parents, date and cause of death, date recorded, physician’s or coroners signature, and certificate number]

Post 1905 Original Records: The California Health Service's Office of Vital Records(OVR) is charged with the responsibility of maintaining a uniform system for registration and a permanent central registry with a comprehensive and continuous index for all birth, death, fetal death, marriage and dissolution certificates registered for vital events which occur in California (1+ million events annually). All death records after 1905, however, the office estimates that fulfilling record requests will take anywhere from 18 weeks to over 6 months and suggests that you seek the records at the county level. Click here for a current listing of county vital record offices OVR does not maintain a walk in counter.

Contact Information:
California Department of Public Health
Office of Vital Records – MS 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410
Telephone: (916) 445-2684

The official statewide indexes to death records is available in many county record centers. Older versions can be found online and on microfiche in many public, genealogical and family history libraries. See the chart below for links to these indexes as well as other statewide finding aids for death records.


Resource
Free CA Pre 1905 Death Index Project
Paid California Death Index - Vital Search 1905-2000
Free California Death Index - Ancestry 1940-1997
Free

California Death Index 1905-1939- FamilySearch

Free California Death Index 1940-1997 - FamilySearch

Burial Permits – Copied and original burial permits. Contains name of deceased, cause of death, name of medical examiner and undertaker, birthplace and occupation of deceased, date and place of burial, and date recorded. Since 1889, permits have been filed with the recorder and, since 1905, the recorder has had authority to issue permits. However, in counties with a health officer, permits have been issued under that jurisdiction since 1914. Permits might be found in city or county archives, with county recorders or in historical collections in public and society archives.

Coroner’s Records – The coroner is called to the death scene when a death is of a mysterious, undetermined or accidental nature. Some of the reports you might find in a coroner’s file are jury reports, necrology reports, pathology reports, police reports, inquest testimony, toxicology reports and final death certificates. Sometimes the coroner’s inquiry takes a significant period of time, and the death certificate is filed much later than the death, or the filing is forgotten altogether.

Even if you have found a death certificate, the other records surrounding a death can provide further information and sometimes lead to better information than that provided on the certificate. Seek out mortuary records, cemetery records, obituaries and probate records. Use city directories (see the Directories page in this guide) to find mortuaries, funeral homes, cemeteries and newspapers in existence at the time of your ancestors death.

Mortuary Records and Funeral Homes – One of the responsibilities of the funeral director is to file the official death certificate with the county. To do so they had to gather all the information required for the certificate. Generally obituaries are also sent out to newspapers by the funeral home, so you might find information on siblings, descendants and even other relatives as well as biographical information no the deceased individual. While the death certificate and the obituary might provide the same information, there is one additional item that might help you assess the information itself. The mortuary file might indicate who provided the information.

Mortuary files can also provide clues as to why you haven’t found other records. Perhaps you can’t find the death certificate, but a cemetery or obituary has pointed you to the right mortuary. They might have a copy of the death certificate or be able to provide information on where the death actually took place. You might be looking in the wrong county (perhaps a hospital was across the county line), the wrong state (death while traveling or visiting) or even a death out of the country. You might also be looking in the wrong papers for an obituary, the mortuary file might have a list of papers where the obituary was printed.

You might find information on the funeral itself and who paid for it. There is no limit to what might be tucked into a file. Gaining access to files is not always easy. Some mortuary files are still held by the mortuary, and they are not considered public records so access is at the whim of the owners. I’ve had mortuaries send the original file and others claim that they can not share due to privacy issues. Some mortuaries have not kept their files, they might have been destroyed, landed in a repository or found their way into private hands. Once you have the name of a mortuary, check all resources to find where their records might have ended up.


Resource
Free FSN California Funeral Homes Listing
Free iMortuary
Free US Funerals Online

Cemetery - The contents of cemetery files are not as extensive as mortuary records, however, they can often help identify other family members. The records might lead to identifying previously unknown family members and unknown female lines. If the cemetery is still accepting burials, start there in looking for records. If they are no longer in their possession they should be able to tell you where they are. If there is no longer an office for the cemetery check with local historical and genealogical societies for possible record collections.


Resources Notes
free Cemeteries of California A full listing of all cemeteries in California with links to Topographical Maps
free California National Cemeteries Los Angeles
Golden Gate [San Bruno],
Fort Rosecrans [San Diego],
Riverside,
San Francisco [Presidio],
San Joaquin Valley [Gustine]

Interment.net

California State Cemetery and funeral Bureau

Obituaries – can be a treasure trove of family information. Children, grandchildren, siblings, and other family members might be named and sometimes a place of residence will be given. Biographical information on the subject of the obituary can lead to other records that might provide further details of their life and family relationships. For help in finding likely newspapers for the area see the Newspapers Page of this guide. Obituaries – can be a treasure trove of family information. Children, grandchildren, siblings, and other family members might be named and sometimes a place of residence will be given. Biographical information on the subject of the obituary can lead to other records that might provide further details of their life and family relationships. For help in finding likely newspapers for the area see the Newspapers Page of this guide.


Resource
Free

Ancestor Hunt

Free ObituariesHelp
Paid Obituaries Archive - ObitsArchive/Newsbank
Free Obituaries Research Guide
Free Obituary Daily Times
Paid GenealogyBank

Terminology, etc –Old records often come with old terms. The following websites offer answers to your terminology questions.


Resource
Free

Encylopedia of Death & Dying

Free Death at Answers.com
Free Glossary of Archaic Medical Terms
Free Enclyclopedia of Genealogy-Death

 

 
 
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