Don't overlook death records. Although they might not give you the name of someone's parents, they may give you an interesting insight into how someone lived and died. They can also be useful for determining the age at death (from which you can work out the likely birth year). If you can't find a death record, there's even a chance that the person may have emigrated.
The main sources for these records include:
1) Death certificates; 2) Church records; 3) Newspapers
These are discussed in more detail below - scroll down. And of course, there are also other records, such as wills and death duties.
The headstone for my great great grandfather, Raphael Simblist.
The system to find death records differs for ancestors who die in England and Wales, and those who die in Scotland. You may also want to consider ancestors who die overseas.
An Act of Parliament was passed in 1836 that led to the setting up the General Register Office to record deaths (and also births and marriages) in England and Wales. Recording began on 1 July 1837. A death certificate may not give you details of someone’s parents, but do consult death certificates for other information to find out more about your family history.
Did your ancestor have a death certificate?
i) My ancestor died before 1 July 1837
Then they won't have a death certificate, so you must look for other sources. The best sources are church records.
ii) My ancestor died after 1 July 1837
Then they will have a death certificate.
You can't see the original registers, so first you must search the free death record indexes to find your ancestor, and then send off for the certificate. Getting a free death record reference from an index for a death certificate is similar to finding birth and marriage certificates, and is described in the separate BMD certificate section.
Example of a death certificate - this one is for Susannah Pook Harton. The death certificate is signed by her niece, Mary Louisa Minnie Harton.
Civil registration was compulsory from 1855, for all religious denominations. Until 1860, the records even showed the name of the undertaker. If your relative died in 1855 itself, the death certificate even includes their birthplace, and the names of any children. The best place to go to find death certificates for people born in Scotland is www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
It can be quite difficult to track down death details for ancestors dying overseas. For more information, see the separate section on death records overseas, or click on Overseas BMDs on the navigation bar.
If you are looking to find the death records for an ancestor prior to 1837, your best option is the parish registers. Don't forget, you can also use the parish registers after 1837. The parish register can give you information about burials.
Tip: Looking for a post-1837 death? Death certificates cost £9.25 (2012 prices). By comparison, church registers can be free to consult. Search the registers at a local record office, or LDS centre. However, the information in church registers will not include information such as cause of death, and the name of the informant.
Today, many people post death notices in the local paper. In the past, it was only your wealthier ancestors who did this. It may be worth starting with The Times and other national papers, and working down to the local papers. Newspaper notices often give details of the age at death, names of spouses and place of death. Remember that where people died abroad, the death notice may not appear in the paper until some time after death.
For more information about using newspapers, click here.