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Clues on an Ancestor’s Death Record - Genealogy Brick Wall Research

Family Tree with title Clues in Death Records

At some point in your genealogy research, especially with a brick wall, you’ll want to explore your ancestor’s death records for even the smallest clue.

If you're lucky, you'll find when and where your ancestor was born, the full names of your ancestor's parents and where they were born, their spouses' full names, and information for their children.

In short, death records can help you chip away at your genealogy brick walls.

Samples of genealogy death records

What Records Help Validate the Death of an Ancestor?

In genealogy, rarely does one record prove a fact. Additionally, death records are not limited to death certificates. As a matter of fact, some states in the US did not record death records until the 1910s. Therefore, we should consult multiple sources for death information.

Those sources may include:

  • Death certificates

  • Death registers

  • Church funeral records

  • Gravestones

  • Interment records

  • Cemetery plot maps

  • Funeral programs

  • Obituaries or Funeral Notices in Newspapers

Did I miss anything?

Suppose you aren’t fortunate enough to find vital records for the dates you’re researching, then you’ll have to explore vital record alternatives.

Devon Noel Lee pointing to video title Clues in Death Records

Watch this research plan development process in action in this video.

Validating Death is a Great Place to Start When Breaking Down Brick Walls

I'm on a quest to discover the identity of my brick wall ancestor John Townley. John is my 4th great-grandfather. Of all the secondary goals in my genealogy research plan, I chose to start with validating his death.

According to a terrific blog post on FindMyPast, "it's often best (in genealogy) to work backward, starting with the most recent events moving to the more distant."

Additionally, I've discovered that many death records are often some of the most easily accessible genealogy sources. FindAGrave, BillionGraves, cemetery websites, and other resources readily provide information about our ancestor's final resting place. Thus we receive clues for our research.


John lived in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, USA. Hamilton County did maintain death records in the 1890s when John died. Score!

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Clues Potentially Found in Death Records

Death records can provide many clues that can validate the facts you have about your ancestor and point you in the direction to bust through genealogy brick walls. Death records may provide:

  • Full name, alternative name, or nickname

  • Maiden names for females

  • Death date

  • Death place

  • Residence at time of death

  • Age at death

  • Birth year

  • Birthplace

  • Burial place

  • Father’s name

  • Mother's name

  • Parents' birthplaces

  • Identity of grandparents

  • Names of additional siblings or kin

  • Occupation

  • Religion

And that's just the tip of the mountain of details in death certificates, cemeteries, and more.

Overlooked Clues on Cemetery Websites

Cemetery memorial websites, such as FindAGrave and BillionGraves, have great clues, beyond just the images of your ancestor's gravestones.

Users may contribute to supporting documents (obituaries, photographs, and biographical sketches) to help your case.

However, pay attention to details clambering for your notice.

  • Symbols on stones - The symbols may give you clues to occupations, associations, and faith.

  • Inscriptions - The inscriptions may specify relationships and provide evidence of religion and personality.

  • Plot locations - The burial spot may give clues to relationships with those buried nearby.

Read this post to learn more about Evaluating a Find A Grave Memorial Page.

↪️ Do you want to dive even deeper into genetic genealogy, writing family histories, and climbing your family tree? Join the

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ndy and Devon Lee invite you to join the FHFXtra Genealogy Premium Membership

What to Do With Clues from Death Records

Each time you find a death record for your ancestor, you should do two things:

  1. Save the source to your family tree

  2. Update your genealogy research plan

Be methodical so you can solve your tough genealogy research questions.

In the next blog post, I'll show you the death records I discovered for my brick wall ancestor, John Townley. I'll also show you how I updated my research plan.

Additional "Clues on an Ancestor’s Death Record " Show Notes

Continue learning about death records and other resources for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.

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