Traditional Genealogy Records

Traditional Genealogy Records

Death records are important in adding information to our Individual Profile (IP). Today more and more of these can be found online. Our main goal here is to find an obituary or death notice, which contains valuable information about someone in the family circle. These notices generally include names of all immediate family members—including married names of daughters, name of funeral home, and possibly the name of cemetery. The following are useful in searching for death information. Death certificates have been required in most locales since early in the 20th century. The key information shown often includes parents’ names, name of cemetery and funeral home, as well as date of death. VitalChek lists where to send for vital records including (birth, marriage, and death) in the USA.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) lists over 70M individuals whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the United States. It mostly lists individuals who died after 1962 and who had a social security number (i.e. who were in the work force) and allows searches by name or another field. The database gives the individual’s Social Security Number, birth date (as reported to the SSA by the applicant), the date of death (usually just the month and year), where his or her last benefit was sent (not the place where the death occurred), and the state where the original application to the SSA was made (not where the person was born). Once you know the month of death you can search elsewhere for the death notice or obituary. You can search the SSDI at FamilySearch™.

Obits and death notices can be found in the local newspaper where the death occurred or where the person lived. These newspapers are usually found on microfilm in your local library. You can call the library directly and ask the reference librarian for help in finding what you need. Alternatively, you can ask your own local library to see if they can obtain the specific microfilm via inter-library loan. There are many newspapers that now have online indices, which also can be searched. You can either talk to the local librarian or search Cyndi’s List for a current list.

Another option is a group of volunteers who do obituary lookups. Check the Obituary Lookup Volunteers website. Once you know the name of the cemetery, you can contact it and ask for any records on file on the deceased and for the name of next of kin. Generally, in an effort to protect the family, they will not provide this information. They will, however, often be willing to forward a letter from you to that individual. Similarly, funeral homes maintain records that have information about the next of kin, sometimes even with addresses and phone numbers.

While we have focused only on a narrow set of records here, many additional ‘traditional’ genealogical records can add clues to our search. These records include marriage, birth, census, city directories, property, and many others. Again, as you do more of your family research and discover more of these documents, you will be able to go back to your search for more living relatives.