Death records certify the death of an individual and are very important for many reasons. First of all, to arrange a burial service, funeral homes require a death certificate. Death records are also necessary when remains will be cremated. In order for the execution of a will to go into effect, there must be a death record as it is the official documentation which allows the legal process of carrying out one’s final wishes to begin.
In early times, it was churches that kept death records. Only in the last few hundreds years have death records been maintained by secular courts. Death records include the place of birth and marriage, possibly any military service, the decedent’s line of work, a list of relatives, and the cause of death.
The cause of death is one of the most important pieces of information on a death record. When there are no suspicions of foul play, this is often easy to determine and there might not be an autopsy. In this case sometimes a police officer or paramedic can sign the certification of death. If, however, an autopsy is needed it could take a while to determine the official cause of death for the record. In order to complete the whole story of what happened to the decedent, a cause of death contains four parts. The immediate cause of death is what ultimately led to the death of the person. Intermediate causes contributed to the immediate cause and are listed separately. Finally, underlying causes, such as diseases that set up the chain of events leading to death, as well as other diseases the person was afflicted with are listed even if they did not contribute to the death directly.
Depending on the jurisdiction, death records may or may not be public. Even if they are, a detailed cause of death may be sealed to everyone except immediate family and those with a need to know. In these cases the cause of death is often simply noted as “natural.”
With all the information death records reveal, many people find them useful in researching their family history and tracing ancestors. Death records can be helpful in finding out more information about ancestors since they can point one toward the locations where more records may be kept. They can also give important medical history. Anyone searching for a glimpse into their family’s past will find death records of relatives a great place to start.