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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for the Online Ohio Death Certificate Index

Questions about Death Certificates

Questions about getting death certificate copies

Questions about the Creation and Use of the Online Death Certificate Index

Questions about Death Certificates

• Where do I find death certificates?
The Ohio Historical Society Archives/Library has copies of original death certificates on microfilm for the period December 20, 1908 through 1953. They can be viewed in the library’s Microfilm Research Room, ordered through the mail, or ordered online for specific years. The Ohio Department of Health, Vital Statistics Office maintains statewide death certificates from 1954 to the present. Individual health departments in the county or city where the death took place keep certificates for their local area (not statewide).

• What information is on a death certificate?
Death certificates contain two types of information: information about the deceased and information about the death. Information about the deceased may include: first name, last name, middle name, age, sex, race, date of birth, place of birth (state or country), marital status (including number of children), spouse’s name, occupation, father’s name and birth place, mother’s name and birth place, and signature and address of person providing information about the deceased.

Information about the death may include: date of death, primary cause of death, contributing cause 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, place of burial, date of burial, signature and address of undertaker, date when the certificate was filed, and signature of the local registrar.

Not all of this information is on every death certificate. The forms varied from year to year, and, depending on the informant, the information may not be complete or correct.

• What does the term given for the cause of death on the certificate mean?
Earlier death records frequently used abbreviations and medical terms that are now outdated for illnesses. View the RootsWeb site to find modern equivalents for older medical terms. Further information can also be obtained through the Archives/Library Reference Staff.

• Will I find any additional information besides the death certificate?
In some cases, supporting information may appear along with the death certificate. These attachments have been microfilmed and directly proceed or follow the certificate itself on the film. This supporting data can come in a range of styles and include a variety of information. For example, if an original death certificate contained misinformation, the Department of Health would draft an official Affidavit of Correction indicating the corrected information. In other cases, the Department of Health may have required a doctor to provide additional information about a death.

• How were these death certificates created?
Following a death, 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 sent to the Ohio Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics. 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.

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Ordering Photocopies of Death Certificates

• How can I get copies of the death certificates listed on the Ohio Historical Society online index?

Order photocopies online:
Search the index for the name(s).
Select name(s) by checking the box to the right of the name.
Save this list by clicking on Step 1, Save Checked Records. To see selected records click on Step 2, Show Saved Records.
If you choose to remove a record from the selected list check the box by clicking Remove.
Once you have a list you are interested in purchasing, Click Purchase. This will transfer your selected list to the Online History Store.
Click the Buy Now button to continue your online order.
At this point, DO NOT USE your browser’s Back button to navigate, as this will result in duplicating your order.
Use the My Cart feature on the left navigation bar to see your order or to cancel an order at any time.
Gift wrapping is not an option for Death Certificate purchases.
To cancel orders at any time use the My Cart feature.
Photocopies will be mailed to you in 2-3 weeks.

Order photocopies through the mail:
Search the index for the name(s).
Select names by checking the box to the right of the name.
Save this list by clicking on Step 1, Save Checked Records. To see selected records click on Step 2, Show Saved Records.
If you choose to remove a record from the selected list check the box by clicking Remove.
To pay by check or money order, simply print the order form by clicking Print Order Form, fill in your name and mailing address, and mail to OHS with payment.
Photocopies will be mailed to you in 2-3 weeks.

Make photocopies in person:
You may use microfilm containing the death certificates at the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library in Columbus. If you choose to visit our library, you can make uncertified copies on any one of the library’s reader-printer machines for a nominal cost, currently 25 cents per page.

• How can I find death certificates on the microfilm located in the Archives/Library at OHS?
To use the microfilm, you will need to know three things:

  1. name of the deceased
  2. year of death
  3. certificate number assigned by the state when the death was recorded.

These three pieces of information can be found in the statewide, alphabetical index.

You will use the year of death to select the appropriate reel from the library’s inventory of death records on microfilm. The inventory is in chronological order, by year of death. Each box also notes the sequential range of death certificate numbers found on each reel.

The death certificates themselves are arranged in a complicated fashion on the microfilm. The primary arrangement is by year and month, and then by a political unit within that month. Counties are listed by month in alphabetical order. Each county is then broken down into its civil subdivisions (townships, villages, and cities). Thus all of the deaths in a particular county for a particular month are grouped together.

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Questions about the creation and use of the Ohio Death Certificate Index

• What is the source of the index entry data?
1913-1935 Indexes:
In the 1970s, the Ohio Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics constructed computer indices of death certificates by inputting a few basic fields of data. These fields are last name (up to 11 characters), first name (up to 7 characters) and optional middle initial, county of death, date of death (mm/dd/yyyy), death certificate volume, and death certificate number. Those computer indices, limited by the technology of that time, are no longer with us, but OHS holds carbon copies of the printouts (some on paper, some on microforms). The OVIL project scanned the hardcopy, and then processed those image files with an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program. The OCR program output text files, which were then verified by comparing the scanned images against the OCR output.

1936-1944 Indexes:
This index was created by volunteers participating in the Family Records Extraction Program (FREP) of the Family and Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Volunteers viewed death certificates and data entered all names contained on each document. Audit procedures were used to assure accuracy.

• What is Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?
The Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program used to create the online database for 1913 through 1935 takes the scanned image (an electronic snapshot image of the index page) and processes it into a text file, matching the shapes of the letters as closely as possible. Errors can occur, particularly with letters of similar appearance.

• What are some common character scanning errors in the database?
A common error of the OCR program is confusing the letters O D C U Q.
Other letter groups often confused are:


Please take this into consideration while searching the database. If a search on the name JOHNSON does not return expected results, try something like JCHNSCN. Similarly, if a search on the name ADDIE does not return expected results, try something like AOOIE. In the date and certificate fields the numbers 8 6 9 0 3 are problematic and often confused for each other by OCR.

• How do I use the Online index?
The Ohio Historical Society (OHS) hosts the online index of death records to improve access to this popular and useful resource for genealogical and family history research. Currently, the database indexes death certificates from 1913 to 1944. This Online index allows for simple or advanced searches for three basic types of data: name, date of death, and county of death. The name category has fields for the first and last names to focus the search for a particular individual. You may use an asterisk (*) to end or begin a name to broaden the search. For example, if you were looking for a John Werniski but you weren’t sure of the spelling, use the search John Wern* to get all names that begin with Wern.

The death-year category can be set to search the two large runs of years, or one specific year. The county-of-death category allows searches of a single county or several counties simultaneously.

A query might produce a long list of results. By default, the index will arrange the results alphabetically by surname, but you can request the results arranged by first name, last name, death year or county of death.

Simple Search
Input one name in the LAST and/or FIRST NAME search form. Last names can ONLY be 11 characters or less and first names ONLY 7 characters or less. Choose an Index from the Date Span pick list (required). Choose a county or "all counties" from the County pick list (required). Select SEARCH. The results will be displayed in groups of 10. Choose "Next 10 Results" to continue through the results list.

Advanced Search
Use the Advanced Search to further limit your search by specific fields. You may search one or all of the fields listed. Please note that the default for County Name is ALL COUNTIES. Multiple counties can be selected by holding the CONTROL key down while clicking on particular counties. The default Year Span can be bypassed by inserting a single year.

• Why is the Results List limited to 1000 entries?
The search process has a limit feature to prevent overloading the system. The maximum number of records that can be returned with one query is 1000. The wider the variable chosen, the longer the time needed to return records. For example, doing a simple search for the last name Jones and choosing "all counties" would retrieve more than the 1000 results limit will allow. A search of this kind will take longer to process than choosing one county and will cut off at the first 1000 entries retrieved from the index.

• Why are some names shortened/incomplete/truncated in the index entry?

The online index is a copy of the original index that was created by the Vital Statistics Office of the Ohio Department of Health. Between 1913 and 1935, the original index truncated or shortened last names to 11 characters and first names to 7 characters. For example, the last name field in the original index contained a maximum of 11 letters, long last names are cut off or truncated (CZASTOLOWSKI will appear as CZASTOLOWSK). This is also a problem in the first name field--many common names are cut off by the 7 letter limit (MARGARE, CATHERI, BENJAMI).

We are unable to add the extra characters "back on" without matching the truncated index entry to each death certificate, reviewing the certificate for the full name, and typing the missing information into the index. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to do a project of this kind at this time.

• Why can’t I find a certificate that I know should be there?
Creating a death certificate and creating a database index are not exact sciences. When the information for a certificate is first compiled, there is room for error. People who give information about deaths are often family members in a time of stress. They may give out erroneous information about the deceased. The people recording the information can make mistakes too. For example, it is not unusual to find misspellings in older records of all types. In addition, the data entry process for the index allowed some room for error in typing and re-typing information.

While the Department of Health and the Ohio Historical Society are both greatly concerned with the quality of this index, not all of these errors can be corrected. Information in original records, even when erroneous, cannot be changed. To help make your searches successful, you should be aware of the possibilities of misspellings and variant spellings. Consider all the possible variations in a name when doing a search (e.g., Johnson, Johnsen or Jonson). In addition, keep in mind that the index entry does not include all information that appears on the certificate. If you do not know when or where a person died, you may need to order copies of a number of certificates in order to get more information that will narrow down your search for a specific individual.

• How can I use creative searching techniques like Wild Cards and Truncation Symbols?
The characters * and ? can be used as wild cards and truncation symbols in the NAME fields to search variant spellings. * can be used to represent 0 or more letters, while ? represents 1 character only. The search CARL?TON would return CARLTON or CARLETON, while CARL* would return names such as CARL, CARLASS, CARLTON, and CARLEY.

• I’ve tried variations on spelling, searching only by the date of death, etc., but the name isn’t in the online index. Why?
We are aware of the instances of misspellings, duplicate records, missing entries, etc., associated with the online index. The original indexes from which the online index was scanned contain fuzzy type. If a name is unclear, the scanning machine guesses at the letters it cannot easily identify. As a result, spelling mistakes occur. If the entry was extremely difficult for the software to read, it may not appear in the online version of the index at all. Although it is difficult to generalize about entries in the index, many 1928-1935 deaths are missing from the online index. If a researcher knows of a specific death at a specific place but is unable to find an entry in the online index, a copy of that certificate can still be ordered. Simply complete the request form giving all the required information. Our staff does not rely on the online index when we search for death certificates in our library. Rather, we use the microfilm version of the original index. This is the same version from which the scanning machinery created the online index, but the human eye is able to more easily read the fuzzy type of the original index.

• What will the Online Index tell me?
The index is designed to provide the first, middle, and last name of the individual, date of death, county of death, and the certificate number. The two most crucial pieces of information needed to locate the certificate are the year of death and the certificate number because they will determine the location of the record on microfilm. Index entries will not include date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc., because that information was not part of the original index created by the Ohio Department of Health.

• Are there research tips and warnings?
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 Zanesville would be in Muskingum County where the accident occurred, even though the victim was traveling from Cambridge to Columbus.

If the person died outside of Ohio, the death records would be in the state in which the person died. Creating a death certificate is not an exact science. People who give information about deaths are often family members acting in a time of stress. They may give erroneous information to authorities, and errors of communication can occur between the person giving and the one receiving information in stressful circumstances. In addition, people can make mistakes in entering data into forms and databases. Thus, you should consider all the possible errors and spelling variations when trying to locate a death certificate. Check, for example, the various spellings for last names (e.g., Johnson, Johnsen or Jonson).

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