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Overheard in GenForum: Death Records, Missouri
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.

November 29, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: While looking at the Missouri site in the previous thread I checked how to order death records. Before I waste ten dollars writing to them I am wondering what help I will get. Their instructions confuse me. It states on the site that death records are not public records. Yet the way I read it, I can order my great-grandfather's death record if I give them the name, date and place and reason for ordering it. Since it is his death date and place I am looking for, are they going to search for his name? What are my chances? -- Susie

A: Vital records are found on different levels from the state down to the county, and in New England, even on the town level.

In order to effectively get vital records, it is necessary that you have some information about the individual for whom you want the vital record. Requesting vital records when all you have is the name of the individual and the state may result in frustration and disappointment.

You need more than the name of a person to get a vital record.

Required Information

The information you'll need varies depending on what type of a record you are looking for. Sometimes you can supply just some of the information and other times a state or county repository may not be willing to search for a record if you have not supplied all the information they request. Below you'll find details on the types of information that you should provide when requesting each type of vital record.

  • Birth Record — A birth record for a person would require the name of the child, the date of birth, the place of birth (the county and state at the very least), the name of at least the father of the child, though both parents is preferred.

  • Marriage Record — For a marriage record, you need to include the name of the groom, the maiden name of the bride, the date of the marriage, and the place of marriage (the county and state at the very least).

  • Death Record — A death record needs the name of the deceased individual (remember to list women by their married name), the date of death, and the place of death (the county and state at the very least).

If you do not know this information already, there may be records available to help you in at least supplying part of the date or place.

Records to Help

If you do not yet have the date of the event or the place, there are records that may help you find this information.

To narrow down a birth event, you might turn your attention to the death record, if you already have it. That should give you some of the information including the age at the time of death, allowing you to at least establish the year of birth. Many death certificates have a place for the birth date. The death record may also supply you with the names of the parents, including the maiden name of the mother. You might also want to look into marriage records since they often supply you with the date and place of birth. Finally, census records which list the individual as a child may give you a county to begin your search for a birth.

Marriage records are often found in the county in which the bride lived. Generally weddings took place in the bride's hometown, though there are exceptions to this rule. If you know where a couple's child was born, you can also begin your search there for a marriage. Obituaries and census records are other resources that often include when a person was married.

Death records are sometimes more difficult to locate. We often lose track of individuals (especially when they are not our direct lineage). If the individual died after 1961, the Social Security Death Index should be consulted.

Family history web pages may also offer the information you need. There are many researchers out there who are sharing information they have found. You will also want to search for your family in the World Family Tree as you may find a GEDCOM file that offers information to help you narrow down the search for the death record.

On the Trail

Before you can request the death record from Missouri, you'll need to do a little more research so that you have more information that just a name. Vital records are generally arranged in volumes either by date of event or, more often, by date of recording. They also may be organized numerically by license number. There may or may not be an index for clerks to refer to when you don't supply enough information.

Often when you do not supply enough information, they will let you know that they could not find the certificate you requested. They will, however, keep your money as that offsets the time it took them to search and to let you know the search turned up nothing.

Sometimes researching at the county level is a better bet. Local clerks often go an extra step or two and occasionally, they even return your money if they do not find what you requested.

Also, if you know the county where the death most likely took place, you may want to see if there is an index to death records available on microfilm or if one has been published by the local genealogical or historical society. One place to look for this is the Family History Library Catalog.

In Conclusion

Vital records for Missouri are not public records, which means you cannot go to the state vital statistics office and expect to be able to search page-by-page through the certificates. However, if you have enough identifying information, you can write and request a copy of a specific vital record.

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

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