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Mortality Schedules Are Often Overlooked

If you had an ancestor who died in the twelve-month period before the official federal census dates for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880, you may be fortunate enough to locate this person on a mortality schedule. These mortality schedules are often overlooked by family history researchers. They may provide useful clues to your family history.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Karan Pittman
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If you had an ancestor who died in the twelve-month period before the official federal census dates for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880, you may be fortunate enough to locate this person on a mortality schedule. These mortality schedules are often overlooked by family history researchers. They may provide useful clues to your family history. The mortality schedules provide death registers for the year before the census. In many cases, these may be records the only records available before the beginning of vital statistics registration, and may be especially useful for infant children who were born and died within the year.

The time periods actually covered by the mortality schedules are 1 June through 31 May of 1849-1850, 1859-1860, 1869-1870, and 1879-1880. In 1900, mortality schedules were taken for states that had not yet started official death registration. Unfortunately, once this information had been compiled, it was statistically recorded and the originals were destroyed. Minnesota is the only state known to still have a 1900 Mortality Schedule available for researchers.

Mortality schedules offer valuable information for researchers. The deceased person's name was given, sex, age, color (black, white, mulatto); if married or widowed, place of birth (state, territory, country); death month and the number of days ill. The 1850 and 1860 mortality schedules delineated who was free and who was a slave. The birthplace of the parents was added in 1870, and the place where a disease was caught as well as how long the person had been in the area were added in 1880. Much of this information, as well as other information pertinent to census use may be found on the Census Bureau home page.

Many of the mortality schedules may be found in the LDS Family History Library. The schedules may be ordered on microform and used through your local LDS Family History Center. A small fee is associated with these orders. The United States Census Mortality Schedule Register lists the microfilm and book references for the Family History Library mortality schedules and indexes. This reference is usually only available in the Family History Library reference centers, although it has been reproduced on microfiche and may be borrowed through the LDS Family History Center.

As the years have passed, many of the schedules that have been indexed are available in other formats. You may want to check www.worldcat.org to see what is available. The subscription web site www.ancestry.com has included many of the available indexed schedules for use. As indexing becomes easier with the advent of new technologies and software, it can be assumed that more indexing projects for the mortality schedules will occur and become available.

Some state mortality schedules are available. The state censuses were usually taken on the five-year cycle between the federal censuses. Not all states included a mortality schedule. State Census Records by Lainhart, published in 2000, is an invaluable aid in finding the available state mortality schedules.

Before the establishment of the National Archives, the mortality schedules were offered to each state. The few that were not accepted by the states were given to the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) Library in Washington, DC.

One of the most valuable aspects of the mortality schedules is the identification and documentation of family diseases and genetic symptoms. It is interesting to read the list of diseases. Many were simple, such as old age and fever. Often the cause of death is listed as unknown. Some causes, such as inflamed bowels or worms may lead the researcher to more questions. The listing of a death from Bright's Disease may lead to some health discoveries in a family. Often the causes indicate how hazardous life was in early America: burning, suffocation, kicked by horse, and gunshot wound. Looking at the mortality schedules gives a person an interesting look into the health patterns of early America. It is easy to see when an epidemic hit an area. The listings for smallpox, cholera, and typhoid fever are prime indicators.

The clues provided in the mortality schedules may lead the researcher to definite dates to check for obituaries and probate records as well as areas for cemeteries. The mortality schedule may be the only available source for an ancestor's birthplace thus giving a beginning point to start more research. If the parent's birthplace is also listed, this provides another point for further research.

Mortality schedules may lead the researcher to another generation or another locale. They are a resource that should not be overlooked.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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