How do I get Death Records?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Whether you are conducting genealogy research or in the process of settling the estate of a loved one, securing the proper death records is essential to the task. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to find and obtain copies of records of this type, with many of the resources being local in nature. Here are a few possibilities that may lead you to the death record or records you need.

Some death records may only be available on a microfiche reader.
Some death records may only be available on a microfiche reader.

If the goal is to prepare a family history or research the family tree, one of the first places to look is at cemeteries. If the deceased belonged to a religious organization that maintained a cemetery on its property, there is a good chance that the historical documents of the congregation include details of who was buried there, along with the death dates of each person interred in the cemetery. Even if the records do not include the exact date of death, they usually will include the lot and space number assigned to the grave, making it an easy task to visit the gravesite and read the data off the marker.

Death records stored on microfilm.
Death records stored on microfilm.

Another approach to obtaining death records involves consulting with government agencies. Depending on the country involved, there may be local agencies that can aid in the search directly. It is not unusual for county and parish records to include information about all the deaths and burials that take place within the jurisdiction. The data usually includes copies of the death certificate issued by a coroner once both a doctor and the government agent have certified the death.

In the event that local records have been lost or damaged, there is always the possibility of searching through death records logged with the national government. For example, in the United States it is possible to secure information on the deaths of individuals reaching as far back as the early 19th century. While the oldest of these records may contain only spotty amounts of information, the records from circa 1900 to the present tend to be very detailed. Copies of death certificates can often be obtained from a national government agency when they are no longer available from any other source.

One final avenue to explore is with the free death records maintained by genealogical associations. In many cases, societies of this type have copies of county death records on microfilm and microfiche dating back many years. More recently, computer technology has made it possible to scan original documents for storage, making the process of retrieval even easier. The free records that can be located at various genealogical societies also often include other public death records such as church cemetery logs, birth and death listings kept by towns and villages, and a wide range of other public death records.

You can also search death records by logging into online sites operated by various organizations. While not always providing direct access to formal records like a death certificate, these sites can often provide enough detail to make it possible to connect with an entity or organization that can supply a copy of the original. In some cases, there will be no cost at all, although there is sometimes a small fee to cover printing and postage charges.

Cemeteries are a great place to go for death records, as most keep good records of who is buried there and burial dates.
Cemeteries are a great place to go for death records, as most keep good records of who is buried there and burial dates.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I think all records should be free, but cost if you want a copy. For me, I have no funds to buy any records. Must depend on what I find on internet. Thanks for your help.


@Laotionne -When my father died, the funeral director who took care of the burial and all of the paperwork regarding the death gave my mother one official death certificate. The funeral director made a copy for his own records, and my mother took the original.

In order to close out several of my father's accounts, my mother needed to provide a death certificate, which would be kept on file by the companies in control of the accounts.

She decided to make copies of the original and this way she would not have to pay for additional originals, which I think were about $20 at the time. We got the first one free, but after that there is a charge.

When my mother tried to use the copies she made as proof of my father's death, she was told that copies were not considered legal proof, and she needed to present originals of my father's death certificate. Long story short, she had to pay for several death certificates before she could get all of my father's finances squared away.


@Laotionne - I think you can get a copy of a death certificate and other death records for as little as the cost of making the copies. You may be able to do this online, depending on where you are getting the death records.


I am helping my grandmother straighten out some of her brother's estate. Since he didn't have a wife or any children the responsibility has fallen on her, and she is old, so I don't want her to worry about all of this stuff. Basically, we need a death certificate to settle most of his business.

Do we have to pay for a death certificate or should one be made available to us at no charge?

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