Gale Family Library

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102
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FAQ - Death Records

 

About MN Death Records Online

Q: How can I search for Minnesota Death Records online?
Use either PeopleFinder or Search MNHS Research Materials to search a variety of records.  To search just Death Records in either system, there are two options:

Search First:

  1. Enter your search term in the "New Search" box at the top of the page and click search.
  2. Click on the arrow next to "Narrow by Collection" in the left-hand column of filters.  
  3. Then, click on the plus sign next to Death Certificate Index.   

Filter First:

  1. Click on the arrow next to "Narrow by Collection" in the left-hand column of filters.  
  2. Click on the plus sign next to Death Certificate Index.  
  3. Enter your search term in Term box, located under the "Your Search" heading in the left-hand column.
  4. Click on the Search button

Note: To stop using a filter, click the grey x next to the filter name.  If you want to start a completely fresh search--one with no filters--just click the xs next to all the active filters OR click on the "Start a New Search" button.

 
 
Q: What will the online index tell me?
First, middle, and last name of the individual; date of death; county of death; and certificate number. Records from 1904 - 1907 and 1955 - 2001 will often also include birthdate, birthplace, and mother’s maiden name. The two most crucial pieces of information are the year of death and the certificate number because they will help you find the record on microfilm. Anything missing from the original record will not appear in the index. 
 
Q: Which Death Records are included in the search?
  • death certificates from 1908-2001 
  • death-cards from 1904 to 1907
Q: Where can I find a post-2001 Death Record?
You can request a post-2001 record from the county vital statistics or registrar's office where the death occurred or the state Department of Health.  
 
Q: Where can I find pre-1904 Death Records?
  • MNHS has death records on microfilm for some counties and localities that can be borrowed through Interlibrary Loan. See the Death Records page of our Vital Records Research Guide for a full list 
  • MNHS has some local and county death registers in the original format that can be viewed in-person only.  You can search in the online catalog with the county, township or city name and the subject "death records" for a complete listing of death records, indexes, and registers. 
  • Some early records are held by the counties.  Contact the vital statistics or registrar's office for the county in which the person died. 
  • The Library has microfilm copies of statewide death registers for 1899 and death cards from 1900 through 1907.  
Note: Minnesota law required the recording of deaths beginning in 1870, but compliance and enforcement was sporadic during the early years.  Many counties were not formed until after 1870, so deaths occurring in what became those counties may be recorded in parent counties.
 
Q: How are the early death cards (1900 to 1907) different from later death certificates?  
Death certificates are filed out at or just after the time of death, usually by a physician or medical examiner with the help of an informant (usually a spouse or other family member).  Death cards are transcripts of death information that were compiled at a later time by the Minnesota Department of Health.  The cards cover the whole state, but they are not complete and are not considered official documents.  
 
Q: What information is on a death card (1900 - 1907)?    
A completed card includes the decedent’s full name, sex, race, marital status, birthplace, and occupation; primary and contributing causes of death (including the duration of each); parents' names and birthplaces (state or country); mother’s maiden name and birthplace; names and addresses of attending physician and undertaker; burial place and permit number; and the name and address of the person reporting the death (usually the township/village clerk or city health officer). You can see an example of a death card here.
 
Unlike death certificates, many death cards were filled out very incompletely.  Cards, especially for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, frequently contain little more information than the name of the decedent, date of death, sex, marital status, birthplace, cause of death, and person reporting the death. 
 
Q: What information is on a death certificate (1908 - 2001)?
Information about the person may include: first, last, and middle name; age; sex; race; birthdate; birthplace (state or country); occupation; marital status (including number of children); spouse’s name; parents' names and birthplaces; and signature and address of person providing information about the deceased.
 
Information about the death may include: date of death; primary and contributing causes of death; duration of the primary and contributing causes of death; signature and address of the physician; former residence if death occurred away from home; place of death; burial place and date; signature and address of undertaker; date when the certificate was filed; and signature of the local registrar.  
 
Not all of this information will be on every death certificate because the forms were not always complete.  You can see examples of death certificates here.
 
Q: The cause of death on a certificate is unfamiliar to me.  How can I figure out what it means? 
Death certificates generally use medical/scientific terminology.  The terms from more recent certificates can usually be deciphered with a basic web search, but earlier death records often used abbreviations and medical terms that are now outdated for illnesses. Library staff can help you search for modern meanings of older terms or check "Old Medical Terminology" on the RootsWeb site.
 
Q: How were the death certificates created?
When someone died, a physician or mortician compiled information about the deceased on a death certificate. The certificate was registered with the local county registrar and the original copy was sent to the Office of Vital Statistics, Minnesota Department of Health. There, the vital statistics staff ensured that the information was complete and that it met the state’s standards. At that point, the death certificate at the Department of Health became the official, permanent record.

 

Death Records Search Tips

Visit our Search Help: People Finder page for general search tips and then try these hints that apply specifically to Death Records: 
  • To limit your results to just death rcords, select the Death Certificate Index filter under Narrow by Collection.  
  • Keep in mind that certificates are issued and registered in the county in which the death occurred. This may be different from the county of residence.  For example, records for a highway death near Willmar would be in Kandiyohi County where the accident occurred, even though the victim was traveling from Minneapolis to Ortonville. Hennepin and Big Stone counties 
  • Remember that some Minnesota counties were established after 1908. Pennington County was formed in 1910 from a portion of Red Lake County, and Lake of the Woods County was formed in 1922 from a portion of Beltrami County. As a result, the record of a death in Baudette in 1920 was recorded in Beltrami County but one in 1923 in Lake of the Woods County.
  • Try alternate spellings. Names may have been spelled differently or this name may have simply been transcribed or entered incorrectly into the index.
  • Try searching without a first (given) name specified or filtered.  Some people used a nickname or middle name instead of their legal given name.  
  •  If you don't find a record under the expected county, try using a Narrow by Place filter to search neighboring/nearby counties or counties where the parents had family. 
  • Use a Narrow by Related Name filter to select the mother's maiden name (keep in mind that death records from 1908-1954 mother's maiden name indexed)
  • If you know the exact certificate number, search for it using quotations like "1917-MN-020666"
  • If you believe that the certificate was not included in the index, see "Why can’t I find a Birth Certificate that I know should be there?"
  • Make full use of options like SoundEx and wildcards (? and #).  
  • Adjust the date or range of dates using the filter. Broaden the date range of your search to include more years or search across all years.
  • Notice that your results are sorted by "Closest Match" by default.  You can switch to two different chronological sorts (oldest first or newest first) and this can make browsing easier.  
Q: What is SoundEx?
Soundex is an indexing system based on how a surname sounds rather than how it is spelled, so it enables one-step searching for variant spellings of a names.  For example, using Soundex on Anderson would return results like Andreson, Andersen, Anderstrom, Andreason, Anderton.  SoundEx is based on the first letter of the last name, so it is crucial that this letter is known and has been correctly transcribed from documents. 
 
Q: How do I use SoundEx?
Our search systems have SoundEx filtering capability, but it is important to note that this is NOT the same as a straight-forward SoundEx search in other systems. 
 
To search using SoundEx on a last name:
  • Search for a name--first, last, or full--in the main search box. 
  • Click on in the left-hand column.  
  • If you do not see the name you are seeking, click on Show More under the short list of names.       
  • Find the last name from the list and click the  button next to it.  
  • If you used a last or full name for your search, erase the last name from the "Term" box in the Your Search area at the top of the left-hand column. Then click the search button.

  • You can now add other filters, search terms, etc. in the left-hand column.  As long as there is a "Family Name Soundex" filter listed in the "Your Search" area, the SoundEx filter will be applied.
  • To remove the SoundEx filter, click the x next to it.  

       
 
Q: Are there any special tips for finding death certificates for American Indians?
All deaths were subject to the same reporting requirements, but American Indians' death records can be harder to find. 
  • Try searching all possible variants of a name.  Many American Indian birth certificates contain Ojibwe- or Dakota-language names or a combination of Dakota/Ojibwe and Anglicized versions. 
  •  Certificates for deaths that occurred on Indian reservations are frequently filed under the category “Unorganized Territory” at the end of the county’s organized jurisdictions, especially before 1940.
  • Researchers may want to check the "Native American death certificates."  Available only in their original paper format, these records contain information on American Indians who either 1) died in Minnesota and were enrolled in or otherwise connected with tribes or bands located in Minnesota or other states (including South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, and Nevada); or 2) died in other states or Canada but were enrolled in or otherwise connected with tribes or bands located in Minnesota.
Q: Can MNHS staff research Death Certificates for me?
We can help you place an order if you are having difficulty and we are more than happy to give you search advice, but we do not have the staff or resources to do in-depth research for our patrons.   

 

Order Help

Q: How can I order a copy of a Death Certificate?
Order a non-certified copy directly through the online search system.  Click on the “buy” button to select and then order through our online store.  The cost is $9, plus any applicable sales tax.  If you opt to mail your payment, we will process your order after it arrives.  
 
Q; If I order a copy, how will it be delivered?
A copy of the record will be mailed to you, usually within 15 business days.  The Minnesota Historical Society does not email scans of death certificates; all death record orders are filled via postal mail.
 
Q: Where can I get a certified copy of a death certificate?  
MNHS cannot provide certified or “official” copies, but you can request one from a county's vital statistics/registrar's office or the state Department of Health. Because certification is designed to prevent fraud--such as identity theft--you must submit an application to establish that you have a “tangible interest” in a certificate. See the Department of Health’s website for more information.  
 
Q: Why does it cost $9 to get a copy of a Death Record from MNHS?
The Minnesota Department of Health has set the fee for a copy of a non-certified death record at $9. The Minnesota Historical Society is complying with this price, as do all the county registrars/public health offices.  MNHS members do not get a discount on Death Records.  
 
Researchers who visit the Library and copy their own death certificates while on-site are not subject to this $9 fee, but pay only the $0.35 per page microfilm printing cost.  
 
Q: Can I see a death certificate without paying for it?
Yes, on-site researchers can view death certificates on microfilm in the Gale Family Library’s Hubbs Microfilm Room.      
 
Q: How do I locate death certificates on the microfilm?
You need to know the year of death and the death certificate number, both of which can be found through the online search. Then use this information to select the appropriate reel from the drawer in the Hubbs microfilm room.
 
For example: For death certificate #1925-MN-018376, go to the drawers that contain the death certificate microfilm, and locate the drawer holding 1925. Each roll will contain a range of certificate numbers, but roll 10 for 1925 is labeled as containing certificate numbers 16,942 through 18,881, so 1925-MN-018376 will be found in roll 10 of the year 1925.
 
MN death certificates were numbered in a complicated fashion.  The primary arrangement is by year, then by political unit, with the counties in alphabetical order. Each county is then broken down into its civil subdivisions (townships, villages, cities, and unorganized territory, if any), arranged alphabetically with unorganized territory at the end of each county sequence. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth are separate from their counties and are located after the last of the counties. 
 
Q: Will I find any additional information besides the death certificate?
In some cases, supporting information or attachments may follow the death certificate on the microfilm. This supporting data can come in a range of styles and include a variety of information. For example, if a mistake was made on the original death certificate, the Minnesota Department of Health would draft an official Affidavit of Correction with the correct information. In other cases, the Minnesota Department of Health may have required a doctor to provide additional information about a death certificate.
 
 

Usual Circumstances

Q: What should I do if I find an error in the index?
While both the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Historical Society are greatly concerned with the quality of the index, not all errors can be corrected. Information in original records cannot be changed in the index, even if it is incorrect, but you can leave a user comment.  User comments are searchable and can help other researchers.  
 
If you find a transcription error (as opposed to an error on the certificate itself), please send the certificate number and description of the error to deathrecords@mnhs.org so the index can be corrected.
 
Q: Why can’t I find a Death Certificate in the index that I know should be there?
  • Incomplete or incorrect original record: People providing information about deaths are often family members in a time of stress. They may give out erroneous information about the deceased. It is also not unusual to find misspellings in older records of all types.
  • Transcription errors: Creating a database index is not exact science and mistakes can be made when people type in information, especially if the original record has poor handwriting.  If you suspect an error, please see "What should I do if I find an error in the index?"
  • Some records are missing from the database, but death certificates do exist: Many 1996 deaths are missing from the index; certain months for certain counties are missing and others are incomplete. On a smaller scale, this appears to be the case for 1980 and 1991, also. 
  • If a Minnesotan died outside of Minnesota, their death record would be in the state in which the person died.  
  • If a researcher knows of a specific death at a specific place but is unable to find an index entry, additional research on the microfilm should be considered. Staff in the Minnesota History Center Library can assist you in narrowing this search and see "How do I locate death certificates on the microfilm?"
  • See Search Help for general search tips and Death Records Search Tips for more specific hints
Q: Why can’t I find a 2001 Death Certificate on the microfilm that I know should be there?
  • The online death certificate index contains death certificates issued in 2001 that are not on the microfilm held by the Minnesota Historical Society. Certificates not on the microfilm include numbers 000001 – 000796 and numbers higher than 534515.  Researchers seeking numbers falling within these missing ranges should contact the Minnesota Department of Heath.
Q: Does the Death Certificate Index reflect corrections made to death records?
All corrections made to paper certificates before 1 January 2001 are included.  For access to certificates with corrections made after 1 January 2001, contact the Minnesota Department of Health.    

 

"Certificates for 2001 are incomplete. The online death certificate index contains 2001 death certificates that are not on the microfilm. Certificates not on the microfilm include numbers 000001 – 000796 and numbers higher than 534515. If these certificates were microfilmed, the Minnesota Historical Society does not hold the microfilm. Researchers seeking numbers falling outside the numbers above should contact the Minnesota Department of Heath."