Death Records

One of the important avenues of genealogical research, which I’ve neglected for the most part, mainly because it just gets lost in my head, is death records. But now, on the family branches where progress has stalled, these records are proving to be a very worthwhile resource.

The states are the entities responsible for these records. Each state has differences in how it’s done, and what it takes to get a copy. The states I am focusing on right now are South Dakota, Iowa, and Maryland.

A few years ago I sent away for a copy of my great-great-grandfather’s death record. He, Wesley Calvin George, died in 1922 in South Dakota. For ten bucks, I think, a copy was mailed to me.[1] It listed his parents by name, although not his mother’s maiden surname. Ever since I’ve been looking for information on those names, Jacob Will and Elizabeth George.

While I haven’t found anything on Jacob, I am convinced that Elizabeth and Wesley[2] are on the 1850 census, living in Baltimore, Maryland. Thirty years later, on the 1880 census, her son Wesley is gone, but she is still in Baltimore, living with her niece and her husband, Elijah Bonner, a sea captain who would later die while in Boston. Elijah had been living with Elizabeth and Wesley in 1850. He was just starting out on his naval career. He was a mere waterman. Elizabeth George died sometime after 1880, likely in Baltimore, so I should be in luck.

Please be advised that death certificate[s] do not exist before 1875 for Baltimore City and 1898 for all other Maryland counties.

Iowa is a bit more stringent than either South Dakota or Maryland, requiring notarization of the form. There are some more quirky aspects, such as counties not being permitted records from 1921 to 1941. (What’s this all about?) I have a lot of relatives who died during this period, including John and Ellen Conner.

In Iowa, official registration of deaths began July 1, 1880. Original records that were registered are on file with the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Health Statistics. Statewide record searches are available from the state registrar. Local vital records registrars are located in county recorders’ offices, where records of deaths that have occurred in that county are maintained. County registrars are not authorized by law to have records sealed by a court of law; death between the years 1921 to 1941. Per Iowa law, information about a specific record is not available over the telephone or by prepared lists. Iowa law provides for public viewing in the county where the record is maintained, or certified copies issued to entitled persons.

Since the Conners I am interested in most likely died in Polk County I can also apparently get copies from the Polk County recorder, although records from the 1921 to 1941 time frame are probably excluded.

I am providing some links which might be useful, priamrily for me in the future. Iowa’s website is a messy compliation of links and it is very difficult to find the PDF form, so I am adding the direct link to this post.

Here are some links for Maryland, which I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate into my text. One is a PDF file of the death certificate form.


1. Ten dollars is a bit steep for a little piece of paper, in my opinion. Whatever I paid for it then, it is now $15. But South Dakota ain’t got nothin’ on Iowa, where the copy of a death record costs $15 and requires a notarized form. Maryland is even worse. It costs $25 for a record. And, in most states, even if a record can’t be found, the fee is not returned. Doesn’t all of this seem a bit much?

2. Wesley is recorded as Westley on the 1850 census, but his age, birth year and place, and mother’s name, Elizabeth, all check out. So it will take some overwhelming evidence to convince me that this isn’t the right family.


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