Finding a Death Date and Place
8/9/2010
Expert advice on discovering when and where your ancestor died.
Q. It seems that my great-grandmother is still living. (She was born about 1863!) I can't find where she died and is buried. I know about where and when.  I've heard from family she was cremated and buried with her husband. I've searched the Internet, and all I've been able to come up with is her name on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses. She's listed below her husband in the 1910 and 1920 censuses, and as widow in 1930. I've even tried to search her by her maiden name and still come up with no matches. Any ideas?

A. If you've done all your searching online thus far, don't worry about being stuck: You still have plenty more avenues to explore.

If your great-grandmother had a Social Security number, she may appear in the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI (search multiple versions of this database simultaneously from Steve Morse's One-Step site).  The SSDI lists the deceased's last residence. Whether or not she’s in the SSDI (the index was computerized in 1962, so most deaths it contains occurred after that), though, if she had a Social Security Number, you can request her SS-5, or Social Security application, from the Social Security Administration.

Check Great-grandma's hometown newspapers for obituaries and death notices in the time frame you believe she died. You can identify newspapers published during that time, and which institutions have them on microfilm, at Chronicling America. Remember that she may have remarried and changed her last name, so look for marriage announcements, too.

Try to request a death certificate from the vital-records office of the state where you think she died. This may be the state where you last have a record of her, or a state where one of her children lived. Every US state was issuing vital records by the 1920s, so you wouldn't need to know the specific town or county to get the record. See the National Center for Health Statistics' Where to Write for Vital Records website to learn the address, fees and ordering information for each US state.

Research the husband, too. You know from your census research he died between 1920 and 1930, and you have a good guess where he died, based on where the couple lived in the census. Check newspapers for his obituaries, too. By identifying the husband’s burial location, you can find out if husband and wife are indeed buried together.
 
Finally, also research her children, siblings and other family members. You may find a reference to her death in the records of one of her relatives.
 
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