Digging Deeper: When You Can’t Find a Death Record


This is a guest post by Amie Bowser Tennant, The Genealogy Reporter, and blog content creator for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Amie is actively engaged in genealogy research, writing, and speaking to audiences who want to embrace their family legacy. She is currently on-the-clock for completing certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

Death records are one of the life event records genealogists collect for family history research. But, what happens when a death record isn’t available due to timeframe or loss of documents? The answer may be to find a burial record instead.

Search Death, Burial, Cemetery & Obituaries in MyHeritage Supersearch.

US Death Records

In the US, death records were generally a civil record and not necessarily collected by a church. In the 1800s, county-level death records were spotty. In other words, not all counties were keeping death records.

Additionally, these early county death records may have been stored in a ledger book and only include one line of information. The information may be limited to the name of the deceased, the age at death, the date of death, a location of residence and, if you are really lucky, the name of a one or both parent(s).

By the 1900s, many US states began taking over the responsibility of keeping death records. These death records are quite a bit easier to find. They are also referred to as death certificates. You will find these death certificates at both a county and state level repository.

A death certificate will likely hold a great deal more information than the ledgers of earlier years. Generally, a US death certificate in the 1900s will include:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Death date and place
  • Residence of the deceased
  • Sex and marital status
  • Birth date and location
  • Name of parents, sometimes including mother’s maiden name
  • Birth place of parents
  • Cause of death, duration of sickness, and other contributing factors
  • The informant’s name
  • Burial location

Burial Records

A burial record is not to be confused with a death record or certificate. A burial record is the document created at the time of burial and is usually created by a church, a cemetery office, or sexton. Burial records are the next-best-thing when a death record cannot be located.

Burial records vary a great deal. There has never been any standard form on a federal or even county level. Burial records generally include the name of the person buried, the date they were buried, and the location they are buried within the cemetery. However, some burial records give a wealth of other information. In some cases, you will also find:

  • Date of death and location
  • Cause of death
  • Who purchased the plot and gravestone, and how much it cost
  • Other persons buried in the same location or plot

Where to Look for Burial Records

Let’s assume you have already confirmed the cemetery your ancestor is buried in. The easy answer for finding the burial record is to head over to the cemetery or Sexton office and ask someone, but that is not always possible. Instead, you may find burial records at local libraries, archives, or even online.

Burial record found online. “Twin Township Cemetery Book, Bourneville, Ross County, Ohio,” digital image online, Twin Township (www.twintownship.org: accessed 1 Feb 2016); entry for Samuel Pancake, died 25 Sept 1885, page 3.

So here’s your plan of action:

First, call the cemetery office and ask if they will send you a copy of the burial record you need. Be prepared with the name of the deceased and the death date.

Second, call a local library, local historical society, or genealogical society in the area and ask if they have copies or microfilm of burial records. If they do, ask if they can send you a copy via email or regular mail. Some libraries may even send you the microfilm via interlibrary loan.

Third, do some searching via the internet. If you are a fan of Google, try Googling something like Ross County Ohio genealogy, or be more specific and Google Twin Township Ross County Ohio burial records. In both of these cases, I found websites dedicated to genealogy records for that area, including digital images of the cemetery records.


Burial records are an excellent alternative to death records. Even if you have already found a death record, there could be additional genealogical data in the burial record. I hope these strategies help you dig a little deeper and uncover your ancestors’ burial records…pun intended!

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  • Mike Bird

    August 14, 2017

    I am a Member of My Heritage

  • Mary Beth Sica

    August 15, 2017

    There is a broken link.

    Search Death, Burial, Cemetery & Obituaries in MyHeritage Supersearch

    Takes you to

    Weinberg Girls and Family Web Site

    • Aaron

      August 15, 2017

      Thanks, fixed!

  • Renate Barreras

    September 2, 2017

    Cannot find info of my father he was born 29.10.1920 in Morchenstern Nr 918 Germany was a Pilot during the war. I was giving my mothers maiden name Renate Christensen. In Germany. Would love tofu d what happened to him.

  • Allan Turner

    January 29, 2019

    Hi John Turner Esquire born 1793 died 1887 in Prospect house Windmill lane Chestnut Hertfordshire. It states in a book a memorial Barnstead Churchyard Surrey but cant find his grave.Also a plaque in st Margaret’s church West Hoathly put there by family but no gravesite. He owned Gravetye Manor Sussex in the 1800s.Any help would be greatly appreciated .

  • Sophia Mathew

    July 26, 2019

    Thanks for sharing such information!
    Death records are commonly a legal record include death certificate, funeral home records and also include the information of the deceased parent and their children.


    August 19, 2019

    Hi, Your suggestions are great . The only problem is the county I live in ,in California didn’t keep death records in 1852 . So my ancestors burial is a mystery . Plus they also didn’t keep funeral home records and if any ever existed I don’t know what happened to them
    So finding where my relative is buried is a mystery. She died in September of 1852 is Siskyou County,California. No records exist for that time period for this county. I have contacted the courthouse .
    Her husband also died here several years later and there is no death record for him either. All I have for his head stone is his death date .
    I probably will never know where his wife is buried .
    I have the marriage records but not much information on them.
    Would like to find more information but without available records I am not sure I will find anything else.