Working with Death Indexes

As genealogists, we continually work with indexes.  Indexes drive the majority of the searches we conduct on our favorite genealogy websites.  The 1940 Census is currently un-indexed, meaning we can not look up (search) for a relatives name to quickly locate the desired record.  Without indexes our searches tend to be time-consuming and tedious.  Indexes usually occur in two forms:  digital (online, usually searchable) and in printed form (a book or publication).

There are a large number of indexes, dedicated to locating the death date of a person.

GenDetective National Death Index Report
National Death Index

Death indexes are not just limited to the actual death dates, but can be dedicated to obituaries, cemetery transcriptions or an abstract of wills. Offerings include a wide range of possibilities, usually based upon locale:

  1. A national index: “Social Security Death Index”
  2. A state index: “Ohio State Death Index”
  3. A county index: “Dust to Dust: Deaths from Indiana County Newspapers 1880-1893

Many death indexes are not available online and most genealogical or historical societies have offerings that are available by visiting the society or purchasing a book.

GenDetective County Death Index Report

County Death Index

These books are invaluable when researching our ancestors, especially when looking for records that are not available online.  These indexes are usually geographic and year specific.  For example, the SSDI primarily covers deaths from 1962 – 2011, with occasional deaths recorded prior to 1962.

To aid in working with death indexes GenDetective has a series of death index reports that reflect the geographic basis of most indexes and including a year range.  These reports parallel the locale offerings of death indexes:

  • Death index for this country
  • Death index for this state
  • Death index for this county

Looking at each of these GenDetective reports, you will notice that each report includes the word may in its title:  “People Who May Have Died in …“.  GenDetective will include

GenDetective State Death Index

State Death Index

any person who you know died in the locale and include any people who lived in the locale, but whose death location (and possibly date) you do not know!  This provides a comprehensive list to use when working with a death index.

Before planning a research trip to a local library, a historical society or a national archive, look at their card catalog to identify any death related indexes.  Run a report that matches each of the indexes.  Yes, you may have a several reports, but think how quickly you will be able to examine each index, which will in turn, direct you to the records you really want to see!

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