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Get the Death Certificate

What solves a lot of brick wall mysteries? Death certificates. But whose should we order? And how do we order them? Here are some guidelines to help.

One easy way to learn is to decide upfront that you're going to do a practice run. You can order a death certificate just to learn how to do it. The learning experience is the goal.

Who Can Order

Every state determines who is allowed to order the certificates. Before you start to order the certificate, find out whether you can.

States sometimes restrict who can order based on the relationship to the descendant or how much time has passed since the death. No one, not even the most advanced researcher, can know those restrictions until they ask or search to find out.

If you don't qualify by relationship for a certified copy, you may be eligible to order a genealogy or research copy. A genealogy or research copy may have parts of the certificate redacted.

How to Order

The ordering process differs from state to state. Each state's vital records website is different, with different forms, different ordering processes, etc. Sometimes, it's confusing. (It's confusing for everyone, not just you.)

And it can be a little intimidating. What if I order the wrong one? What if I don't know enough to even order it in the first place? How many of those order form blanks can be, well, blank?

Whether it's a question of how to order or how to fill out the form, simply dig in and start. Once you start the process, the rest comes easier. The key is to NOT hold yourself to perfection.

Tips to order:
Find the instructions online. Each state should have a website with an order form available for download. Usually, instructions are also listed.

If the instructions are not clear, call the office that oversees fulfillment. Humbly ask for advice. Ask them to educate you about the rules and what must be included on the application.
Find someone who has ordered from that office in the past. Ask a genealogy buddy or a local genealogy society for guidance.

Whose Certificate Should I Order?

Once you know how to order, you should get certificates for your target ancestor AND other family members. Those other death certificates may well solve mysteries when your ancestor's certificate does not. For example, order certificates for your target ancestor’s siblings, nieces/nephews, cousins, etc. A second cousin's ancestors are also yours, so tracing their line backward will lead to answers.

Ok, I have the Certificate. Now what?

After you receive a certificate, really study it and mine the data. Re-write and summarize the information to make yourself slow down and analyze the data in-depth. Make sure you inspect every tiny detail for clues. Is the spouse listed? Who was the informant? What hospital were they in? What funeral home? Cemetery? Do any of those places still have records?

Don't be intimidated. Get the certificate. You'll be surprised how much you learn from it.

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