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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Place of Death versus Death Certificate

Recently, I received an email from someone who was exasperated searching for a death certificate for one of her ancestor's. She had traveled quite a distance and spent hours searching the local courthouse records for the death certificate to no avail.

There are plenty of reasons why researchers run into such a dilemma. But here is one that is so simple we often overlook it.

The death certificate is filed in the county or parish where the person died.

It sounds simple enough, right? But it reminds me of a church that protested loudly when the city told them they could not put their church's sign up at the edge of town like all the other churches. They asked the wrong question. The city told them "they" could not put up the sign -- because, for insurance reasons, a city employee needed to put the sign up.

Let's look at this again.

The death certificate is filed in the county or parish where the person died.

If a person died, even across the county line from where they lived, the death certificate would not be filed in the county where they resided. So, think about it. If your ancestor from Tupelo, Mississippi, died after being run over by a streetcar while visiting the Columbia Exposition on vacation in Chicago, their death certificate would be in Cook County, Illinois, instead of Lee County, Mississippi.

Perhaps the ancestor's obituary would provide a lead in locating the death certificate. Did they die in a hospital in another county? Did they live in a rural area that was actually in a different county than you thought? Did they live in a location that became part of a different county at some point in time?

There are lots of angles to consider. But, most of all, remember that the death certificate is unrelated to the last known place of residence.

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