Are Death Certificates Public Record?

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in LawJuly 30, 2021
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A death record is the official recording of a person’s demise. It usually includes the date, time, and location of their death and the cause of death. These records are used for various purposes, such as marriage, divorce, and insurance claims. If you are wondering, are death certificates public records? The answer is more complicated than just a simple yes or no.

How to Find a Death Record?

There are a few ways to find someone’s death record. Each state and local jurisdiction (county/town/city) has record repositories of vital records like birth, death, marriage, and divorce. Many of these government entities keep their records online in a searchable database. Qualified individuals can pay a fee to find someone’s death record and even order copies.

Some local offices keep their records in paper form, and you would have to visit an archives building or records library to find what you needed. The CDC also has resources for finding death records and other vital records within each state. 

You can also use a website like InfoTracer with millions of records in an easy-to-use, quick search tool on death records to determine whether or not someone has died. Within seconds you can find out a lot of information about a person. 

How Can You Find out If Someone Has Died?

how can you find out if someone has died

One way to find out if someone has died is to check with local papers and ask the obituary department. The media keeps records and often lists death information in weekly or monthly periodicals. In addition, many news outlets keep their obituaries online for easy searching.

Another way to find out if someone has died is to check social media. Often, after a person passes away, their family will note their social media account but leave it online so that others can post memorial remarks. You can also reach out to the person’s family or mutual friends to see if the person is still living.

Courthouses hold birth and death records as well and can often help a researcher find out if someone is alive or dead. The place to start is with the Clerk of the Court. 

Are Death Records Made Public?

The question is death certificates are public records is a complicated one. First, it depends on the state and local ordinances. Many states do consider death records to be public records, and anyone can search to find them. However, some states only allow close family members or legal representatives to obtain copies. The wording they use is that only someone with a “direct and tangible interest” can access death records.

After a certain number of years, most states open up confidential death records to the general public. These are most often found in archive buildings or websites. They can be helpful to find information about the deaths of old war vets or other ancestors. 

What Do Death Certificates Tell You?

Death records are helpful for many reasons because they are official government records and contain a lot of vital information. Some of the details on a death certificate include:

  • Deceased’s information: A death certificate will show the deceased’s name, address, age, gender, race, social security number, birth date, place of birth, marital status, parent’s names, spouse’s name, and education level.
  • Time/Date/Location of Death: Additional information on the death certificate will show the date, time, and location of their death.
  • Funeral Home Details: Some certificates will also list the funeral home that handled the deceased's burial or services and whether the person was buried or cremated.
  • Cause of Death: A vital fact listed on the death certificate will be the cause of death (how the person died). It may list if the death was accidental, violent, or if they died of natural causes. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy or declared the person dead would also be listed on there.

Do Death Certificates Show Cause of Death?

An official death record will contain the person’s cause of death. However, in many cases, states that consider death records private will only release a version with the cause of death on it, to close family members, the deceased’s attorney, or a court. They may omit the cause of death on records provided to the general public. 

In summary, the question of are death certificates public records is yes and no. Almost all death records eventually become public records, but they may be considered private and only accessible by the family for some time before that. Typically, if they are private, they remain so for 50-100 years, then they become public. 

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