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Death records: a valuable resource for genealogists

Knowing where to locate death records is crucial for those who are tracing their family tree. Genealogists go to great lengths to insure their family's heritage is not lost to present and future generations. The use of personal computers has made locating death records less complicated and time-consuming. By searching genealogical websites, such as and, one may be able to locate death records from the eighteenth century through death indexes and census records.  

Another invaluable source of information to genealogists is a probate record. These records are kept by a probate court. Probate is derived from Latin and means "to prove," and in the case of a death, probate law is used in court to prove the authenticity of the deceased's last will and testament. At the close of the twentieth century most deaths have been followed by probate and subject to probate law, even if it is only to establish that probate proceedings are not necessary. Before the twentieth century not all wills were probated.  

Where can I find probate records?

Probate records can be located in the court records in the county where the deceased last resided. Older records are often relocated to state archives to allow for better security, humidity and temperature control and to make space in the courts for current records.

Genealogists search probate records to find lists of heirs that determine a familial relationship. Historians also find probate records useful in that they help to locate information about a building of interest that may be found in a real estate inventory of the deceased.

Social Security death records are also useful

Another resource utilized by those tracing their family tree in the US is Social Security death records. The SSDI or Social Security Death Index includes those who died after 1962 and had a Social Security number. This death record lists important information for a genealogist such as their descendant's name, state where their social security number was issued, and the Zip code of their last residence and the Zip code where the death benefit was sent. If a Social Security death record entry is located in the Social Security Death Index, a genealogist can write to the Social Security Administration to receive the deceased's Social Security application file.

I know the death record should be there, so why can't I find it?

There are several instances in which the deceased's Social Security number is known, but their death record is unable to be located in the Social Security Death Index.

  • The death was not actually reported to the Social Security Administration in the first place.
  • Information regarding the deceased was recorded incorrectly.
  • Some railroad employees' pensions handled their social security payments and in these instances the deceased's death record may not appear in the Social Security Death Index.

In some cases, the deceased's name was misspelled or their middle name was noted as their primary name. When searching Social Security Death records, it would be prudent to search for similar sounding names as well as using the deceased's middle name if the death record cannot be found.

Genealogists want to insure that their family's lineage is recorded for present and future generations. Searching death records is a means to locate information regarding one's ancestors. Death records or information pertaining to the deceased can be located through Social Security death records, genealogical websites, and probate records.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Grief Library section helpful too.

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