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Overheard in GenForum: What Info Found on Coroner's Report?
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

April 06, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Does anyone know what information can be found on a coroner's report? I have a death certificate that shows no burial date and no cemetery. Would I find that information on the coroner's report? What else of benefit would I find there? The death certificate does indicate cause of death. This was in 1892 in New York City. Also, if a person could not afford to pay for burial, where would they be buried? I wrote to Calvary Cemetery in Woodside New York where the husband is buried in an "untitled" grave but they do not find the wife. They said "untitled" means he was buried there because no one could pay for the burial. Since the wife died the year before, I assume the same holds true for her but they don't find here there. Any suggestions where she might be found? -- Maryanne

A: Coroner's reports or, as they are now known, Medical Examiner's reports, are often overlooked by genealogists. Many genealogists do not understand that they have access to these records.

Perhaps it is because we don't like to think of anything truly bad happening to our ancestors, we as genealogists do not seek out these records. However, these records are open to the public, and in some cases may even be microfilmed.

Coroner's records are an under-used resource that genealogists should investigate more thoroughly.

An Overview of the Coroner's Records

While we tend to link coroners with only those deaths of a violent nature, this is a misunderstanding on our part. The coroner would also investigate deaths that were of an accidental or mysterious nature as well.

We also tend to think of these records as being a modern invention. In reality though, coroner's records and inquests have existed for hundreds of years. For the genealogist, the more genealogically-nformative ones are likely to be the earlier ones.

What Will You Find

There are many different types of records that you are likely to find in a coroner's report, including:

  • Pathology reports
  • Necrology reports
  • Toxicology reports
  • Testimony offered at the inquest
  • Police reports
  • Jury reports

Like other records, the coroner's records can be found at a variety of levels of jurisdiction including city, county and state. Most places will have a county examiner, however larger cities will have medical examiner offices.

While these records may not offer the place of burial for your ancestor, you may be able to determine where he was buried based on other clues included in the report.

Where Can You Find Them

It is important to first determine the jurisdiction for the area of interest. In your case, because you are dealing with a large city, there is going to be more than one city examiner's office. However, as was mentioned earlier, some of these records have been microfilmed.

A search for coroner's records for New York found at the Family History Library revealed the following records:

  • Brooklyn (Kings County) - Coroner's reports 1897-1914
  • Manhattan (New York County) - Coroner inquests 1797-1820, 1862-1864, 1868-1918
  • Manhattan (New York County) - Coroner inquests 1823-1898
  • Manhattan (New York County) - Coroner reports 1839
  • Manhattan (New York County) - Bodies-in-transit 1859-1894

The bodies-in-transit records are one of those records that do in fact supply you with information about burial.

Other Places for Records

Locating these records may require additional searching. The first stop should be the local city or county clerk's office. However, you will also want to be sure to check the local and state historical societies. And don't overlook the state archives either. Finally, you can contact the current coroner's office and ask them where their old records are now located.

And as I have shown above, many of these records may have been microfilmed and you may find it easier to get them through your local Family History Center.

New York Cemeteries

If you haven't done so already, you will want to be sure to get the death certificate for the wife in question. Perhaps it will give you insight into where she was buried. However, a newly released book that may be of use to you in this search is The Graveyard Shift, A Family Historian's Guide to New York City Cemeteries by Carolee Inskeep and published by Ancestry.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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