After a recent trip to Ireland, I am still pondering about ways that I can find more information about my Irish ancestors from County Kerry and County Cork. I have found records through most of their adult lives, but the elusive death records elude me. I have hopes that some day I will be able to find other family member ties to help me pinpoint their home area in Ireland. Family Tree Magazine has an interesting article about death records. Let’s dive into a few of their suggestions.
Of course, we all would love to find a complete death certificate listing our ancestor’s birth, death, spouse, parents, and cause of death. When you do it is like winning the genealogy lottery, isn’t it? Let’s face it…when we are researching in the 19th century or earlier in the United States and Canada, we are not so lucky. Many states didn’t require these records until the 20th century. Where else can we look?
Within the church records, you may find a burial record which includes the death date and funeral/burial dates. While these will not always list parents or next of kin, they do allow you to find vital dates and the cemetery location.
If your ancestor does not have a tombstone but you do know where they are supposed to be buried, you could contact the cemetery association. Or in the case of small towns, you might try reaching out to the church or local funeral home. They may know the person who maintains the local cemetery book. This is a listing of the individual plots for the cemetery and who is buried where. It likely won’t give your family information but it will give you the death information and location in the cemetery. Often if family has moved away and there is no headstone or payments for upkeep, the plot may be used again. The burial book might be the only record available.
Some funeral homes—especially in rural areas—have records from the past and depending on how busy they are, they can try to look up your relative based on a date. More "modern" records include information that is used for the obituary. Many times, funeral homes are acquired or change hands and they inherit all those records. It is worth checking into.
I really like to scroll through newspapers to see if there is some tidbit of information about an ancestor’s death. Sometimes you might read about an accident with expectations of a full recovery and then the next day learn of their passing. I have seen newspapers unkindly speak about a family’s loss of children to diphtheria as somewhat the fault of the parents because the doctor didn’t call often enough. I can’t imagine the additional heartbreak for the parents. I would hope we wouldn’t see anything like that today. If you’re lucky enough to find an obituary, you can determine relationships; take special note of friends and family who came from out of state or nearby towns. They are likely relatives.
I hope these suggestions help you on your way to discovering death information for your ancestors. Keep digging and I will do that same!
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.