Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Hospital Records: If your ancestor died in a hospital, there is a fairly good chance a record of the event still exists. This is especially true if the ancestor died in a city hospital, quarantine hospital, or other government-run health-care facility. Such a record may exist even if the state did not require the keeping of vital records at that time. A hospital that did not maintain a special register of deaths may have made note of patient fatalities in the its register of admissions and discharges.

Institution Records: If an ancestor was detained in an almshouse, old age home, soldiers’ home, insane asylum, prison or other criminal detention facility, a record of the ancestor’s death may exist in the records of that institution. This is true even if the state did not require the keeping of vital records at that time.

Military Records: If an ancestor died while in the military, it is possible that a record of the death exists, even if the keeping of vital records was not mandated at the time. Depending on the circumstances of your ancestor’s death, more than one record of death may actually exist. Your ancestor’s death could be recorded on the muster roll of his regiment, most of which have been microfilmed by the National Archives. If he was killed or wounded in action, or died while a prisoner, or died in a military hospital, or was executed by the enemy or by his own side, there may be a record of that event in addition to the muster roll.

Newspaper Obituaries, Death Notices, and Burial Permit Notices: Newspapers in the 19th century sometimes printed these notices, although the availability of these records will vary greatly by locality, as will the availability of indexing for these notices. A state historical society is often a good source of 19th century newspapers.

Organization Membership Lists: Nineteenth century people, male and female, were likely to be members of several organizations. Such memberships could provide amusement and companionship, and in some cases membership could provide medical care and burial privileges in the organization’s cemetery. Even if the organization did not provide burial services for its members, deaths of members were often recorded in the organization’s record books or in published annual reports. If an ancestor is buried in a cemetery such as an Odd Fellows or Masonic cemetery, then there could be some record of the person’s death in the organization’s archives.

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

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