Vital Records in North Carolina: Death Certificates
Author: Erin Bradford, Reference Librarian
Vital records are important to research, but they are not always easy to find. In North Carolina, death certificates began to be issued on a statewide basis in October of 1913. It is necessary to know the county where the person died and to be aware they may have died in a different location than where they resided.
Died Before October 1913
Although death certificates began statewide in 1913, many counties began issuing death certificates as early as 1909. Approximately 51 counties began to issue death certificates in 1909 and 83 counties out of 100 by the end of 1912; however, almost all of those deaths took place in a hospital. For those who did not die in a hospital, there may not be a record before 1913.
If your ancestor died before October of 1913, there are possible substitutes. Visit our website for suggestions of record substitutes. Page 1 is about finding Vital Records and page 2 is a list of possible substitutes, such as family Bibles, cemetery records, newspapers, and others.
Died after October 1913
Although death certificates began to be issued statewide in 1913, many early deaths were not always recorded as they often took place at home and no record was filed at a later time. Although hospitals existed, the culture at the time still had many deaths, as well as births, take place at home. The shift to hospitals started taking effect by the 1930s and 1940s.
The printed form used for death certificates changed over time. Some of the information is a primary source, specifically the cause of death and date of death, but a large part is provided by an informant and is only as reliable as the informant. Sometimes the informant was a spouse or a child; other times they may not have been related. In rarer cases, there may not be an informant and all information given may come from the hospital or doctor records.
Information that may be found on a death certificate includes: name, race, gender, where they lived at the time of death, where they died, date of death, causes of death, whether buried or cremated and where buried, and social security number. From the informant, information can include deceased’s age and possibly date of birth, where they were born, what they did for a living, whether single, married or widowed, and if married, the spouse, the names of parents and where they were born, as well as the informant’s name and address.
Where to Find the records
1909-1979: State Archives of North Carolina
1930-current: North Carolina Vital Records
1979-current: County Register of Deeds offices (in NC, kept in county where death occurred)
Did you know? Many counties also have death indexes. These are summaries of what you will find in death certificates; however, some counties began to keep these indexes before October 1913. Often, they list the deceased’s name, the year or date died, and potentially the birth date and parents’ names. Earlier indexes usually include only that, but those in the later 1900s can include more. Ancestry.com has a database of these from 1908-2004. Come visit the SLNC Government & Heritage Library to take a look. Also many other libraries have this for patrons. Check with your local library.