How does a death register compare to a death certificate?

A death register is an index of deaths; that is, a listing of deaths written down as they are reported and may contain many names; whereas a death certificate is a document verifying the death of an individual, typically issued by a civil authority. Many death registers, however, pre-date the civil registration of deaths. Death registers may be created and kept at town, county or state level. Death registers may also exist for churches and other institutions such as the military, hospitals, prisons, mental institutions, poor houses, orphanages, etc. Death registers typically give the name of the deceased, the cause of death, the date and place death, and may include other information as well.

The U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a death register maintained by the federal government, comprised of deaths reported by various entities of persons who held social security numbers. The U.S. Federal Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885, is also a death register of deaths occurring within 12 prior to the enumeration date of each census year.

Death registers may be available through the town or county holding jurisdiction, and some may have been transferred to the state. Copies may also be available through state archives or historical societies; many genealogical societies (and others) have transcribed and published death registers in book form, which may also apply to registers created by institutions. A number of death registers are available online, some independently published and some published on commercial websites. Death registers may be the only record of death for some persons and certainly warrant investigation.

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