Research Notes -
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Minnesota's On-line Death Certificate Index

The Minnesota History Society just released a new on-line searchable site to index the death certificates from the State Department of Health. It's the Minnesota Death Certificate Index. This index will continue to expand, as the certificates themselves are microfilmed and made available to researchers. See my research note on the coverage and organization of the certificates themselves.

The new aid is an index for the death certificates beginning in 1908, and is not a transcription of the records. Since those certificates are numbered and organized by date within counties, the index will allow researchers to more quickly pinpoint the certificates they want to view. Here are a few things to remember when using this index:

  • The index was developed at the Minnesota Department of Health, to assist them in handling requests for death certificates. The key fields are name, death date, death location, and certificate number. The certificates themselves usually contain other helpful information. All indexes (even the Census Soundexes) are intended to help users find the original data quickly, and are not a source by themselves.

  • The names in the index result from someone reading handwritten certificates, and therefore may have been misinterpreted. It's easy to confuse an "n" for a "u" or "tt" for "lt" or "tl" etc. Because a Soundex search is available, you will want to try those variants of the surname that result in a different Soundex code, just as you do with other indexes.

    Because the names were keyed as they were written on the certificates, there are words in the name fields that are not names, such as "Mrs.", "baby" and "stillborn." For example, the certificate could be filled out as Mrs. Peterson, with neither her first name nor her spouse's first name. The "contains" search will allow you to bypass the titles in the record. And you may find the father's or mother's name in the case of a stillborn.

    And of course, searches on names can be narrowed through the selection of dates or locations.

  • Information provided on certificates and in the index is only as good as the informant can provide. The death date can usually be relied upon (although I have one in our family where the death certificate date is a day later than the date of the local newspaper where the death was reported).

  • Remember, too, that the certificate would have been filed where the person died, and not in the person's regular place of residence. This is particularly important when selecting a specific location. The temptation to say "I know my John Anderson died in Fridley (Anoka County)" can mean you might miss his death record in Minneapolis, if he died in a hospital there.

  • These death certificates are State Health Department duplicates of those filed in the local offices. Some counties have allowed the filming of their death certificates and indexes. Check the location in the on-line Family History Library catalog to see if this is an option for you.

Kudos to the staff at MHS for getting the site up and running! Every little bit of help in finding those Minnesota people is greatly appreciated!

© 2001 Park Genealogical Books, Roseville MN

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