Thursday, February 10, 2011


St. Louis Cemetery Lists and Death Registers, 1764-1999: a Selected, Annotated Bibliography of Materials in the Collection of St. Louis Public Library



Genealogists are often told that no death records exist for the date prior to which a state began the mandatory collection of such records. But all such a statement really means is that the keeping of death records by that state’s Office of Vital Records was not mandatory in that state prior to that date. Obtaining a death certificate from a state Office of Vital Records is certainly not the only way to determine when an ancestor died. Following are some other sources that can be used to determine dates of death.

Office of Vital Records: Before they elected to require statewide keeping of vital records, many states had a period when keeping of vital records (usually by county clerks) was discretionary. Compliance was often low, but some county clerks did keep vital records during this trial period. Sometimes copies of such records were sent to a state office; often, however, copies were kept only by the county office. You should check with the county clerk in the county where a person died to see if there is a death certificate, even if there are supposedly no death records for that period for that county (trial periods for vital record keeping often started ca. 1850 and continued for varying periods of time; mandatory keeping of vital records usually begins ca. 1900-1910).

Bible Records: Many families in the 19th and early 20th centuries kept records of births and deaths in the family’s Bible, usually in a section of blank pages that was located between the Old and New Testaments. For many years, courts were required to accept such records as proof of birth or death. If you or another person in your family has an older Bible, you might check to see if
it contains such a section.

Cemetery Records: Cemeteries in most cases were recording information on their occupants long before the states in which they are located mandated the keeping of vital records. If you know where an ancestor is buried, you may wish to check with the sexton of that cemetery or the denomination or organization that maintains it to see if it has burial records for the cemetery. It is also possible that the city or county where the cemetery is located required a burial permit.

Coroner Records: If an ancestor died an unnatural death, especially in a big city or well-established county, there is a chance that a city or county coroner held an inquest to determine cause of death. This may be so even if that state at that time did not mandate keeping of vital records. Coroner case files are usually well organized and indexed.

Funeral Homes: A funeral home (especially one that has been in business in one location for a long time) may have useful and informative records on past interments. They are sometimes willing to share information in their files with genealogists.

Copyright 2000 by St. Louis Public Library. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Bible records are indeed a great resource, but might I point out that the old family Bible was a repository of many other records. Often I find naturalization papers, newspaper obits, wedding invitations, land deeds and many other documents in the between the leaves.