Death certificates

A typical death certificate

On a typical death certificate you'll find:

  • Full name of the dead person, and date of death
  • Sex and age of the deceased — sometimes a name can be misleading so make sure the sex is what you expect
  • Occupation — again this can be a final decider as to whether or not you have the right person
  • Cause of death — and often reference to an inquest — a newspaper report could give more information
  • Signature, description and residence of informant. This could be a relative

ROBIN VYRNWY-PIERCE

Deaths can be as important as births and marriages to family historians.

After all a death can actually define a closure point on a family and can sometimes rule out a lead you might have been following.

Local newspaper reports

Eastern Daily Press 1875
Saturday, January 2

BALDWIN December 26 in the 74th year of her age Mrs Hannah Baldwin, widow of the late John Baldwin, Baptist minister of Old Buckenham.

FILL December 11 lost off Ushant on a voyage from Marseilles to Lynn Charles Fill fourth son of the late S J Fill of Great Yarmouth aged 22.

MARSHAM December 30 Mr H Marsham Essex Street, Heigham, 67th year. Randall December 30 Langham Vicarage, Emma, the mother of Rev J M RANDALL, vicar of Langham, aged 78. Walton December 30 at his residence, Golden Ball Street, Norwich, after a long and painful illness, Arthur Walton aged 34.

Norwich Mercury 1868
January 1

OVERMAN December 25 at 26 Holland Road, Brighton, suddenly Charles Edward Overman esq, formerly of Burnham market, Norfolk.

GUNTON December 27 at Thomas Street, St John, Southwark, Captain Thomas Gunton, many years a younger brother of the Trinity Road, and formerly of Yarmouth, aged 91.

Norwich Mercury 1830
November 13

WILSON August 15 on board His Majesty’s ship Blossom in the West Indies of the yellow fever Lt William Wilson RN, third son of the Rev G Wilson of Kirby Cane aged 29.

T(H)OMPSON At New York in America on August 26 Mrs Thompson wife of Mr William Tompson (sic) late crape and bombasin dresser of St George’s Colegate in this city.

Better to find out a possible lead has died before the known date of your particular ancestor.

Deaths are also used to rule out people of the same name when you are tracing a family.

If you are trying to to track down an ancestor called William Grover, who could have been born in any part of the country, and you find three William Grovers born at approximately the same time then try and track down deaths in the area of birth.

Death reports can also clarify family links such as the report in the Norwich Mercury of December 11 1830 about the death of Sara Leathese, at Shropham Hall, wife of the Rev G R Leathes, daughter of the late General Hethenett and niece of the late Colonel Barker.

Which suggests that Sara Leathese’ mother was a Barker before she married Hethenett the soldier — all useful information.

Until late in the 19th century the deaths column in a local newspaper was of limited use as it would mainly refer to people of an elevated position in society.

If your ancestors are of somewhat humbler origins you could still find them in the newspaper, however, if they died in a violent or strange manner.

Suicides, accidents and murder victims will almost all be named in reports such as inquests.

Families did place entries in newspaper columns for people who had moved out of the area and died elsewhere.

In the Eastern Daily Press of Saturday, January 2, 1875, there was a report of the death of Captain George James Rice, aged 71, formerly of Great Yarmouth.

He died at the home of his son-in-law (not named) in Liverpool. The full address is given and a report such as this could answer queries about where members of the family had gone to in between census returns or other events.

Once you track down the date of death and find the correct references in the national index of births, marriages and deaths, you can obtain a certificate.
Provided the copy is accurate, and nowadays as they are photocopied onto your certificate they probably will be, you can find a range of useful information.

Clearly the name and usually the address will be on the certificate — close to a census date this can help find the rest of the family.

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