Minnesota Death Records — Help/About

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About MN Death Records

Q: How can I search for Minnesota Death Records online? 
Use the Minnesota People Records Search. The search defaults to searching multiple record types, so if you want to search only birth records, click the check-marks to remove the others.

Q: Can I still search for Death Records using the search.mnhs.org  (search box located at the top-right of MNHS webpages)? 
Yes. However, the Minnesota People Records Search was specifically designed to be an easier and more effective search tool for records about people.

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. Anything missing from the original record will not appear in the index.

The two most crucial pieces of information to note are the year of death and the certificate number because they will help you find the record on microfilm.

Q: Which Death Records are included in the search?

  • death certificates from 1908-2001
  • death cards from 1904 to 1907

Q: How can I see a full death record that is in the online index?

  • Visit the Gale Family Library in person: Certificates can be viewed in our Hubbs Microfilm Room
  • Order a copy: Click on the blue "Buy" button to start the purchase process

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 filled 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 ensure 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.

Search tips

  • Try alternate spellings: Names may have been spelled differently, or the name may have simply been transcribed or entered incorrectly into the index.
  • Try searching without a first name specified: Some people used a nickname or middle name instead of their legal given name.
  • County:
  • County of death may be different from the person's 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 (Hennepin County) to Ortonville (Big Stone County)
  • 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 searching neighboring/nearby counties, counties where the parents had family, or counties where larger hospitals and institutions were located.
  • Mother’s maiden name: If the record is from 1955 to 2001 and you can use the Related Name field to add it to the search. (From 1908-1954, the mother's maiden name was not indexed.) Keep in mind that even in the 1955 to 2001 period, not all records have a maiden name recorded and some records have a first name, rather than a last name.
  • Use the power of the “Starts with” search: Try using one--or just a few--of the beginning letters of a first or last name. Particularly helpful for names that can be spelled different ways or were easily misunderstood by clerks.
  • Try other search options: The search defaults to Starts With, but the other options (Sounds Like, Contains, Exactly, etc.) can be helpful
  • Exact certificate number: If you know it, search using a year-MN-certificate format (1917-MN-020666)
  • Sorting results: Results are initially sorted alphabetically by last name. Switch to a chronological sort by clicking on the date label at the top of the column. Clicking the date label again will reverse the list so the newest records are first.
  • If you believe that the certificate was not included in the index, see “Why can’t I find a Death Certificate in the index that I know should be there?”

Sorting results: Results are initially sorted alphabetically by last name. Switch to a chronological sort by clicking on the date label at the top of the column. Clicking the date label again will reverse the list so the newest records are first. 
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?”

Special tips for finding death certificates for Dakota and Ojibwe people 
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 death 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.
  • Check the "Native American death certificates" collection. 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 I edit my search without starting over? 
Yes! Scroll up to the search area. Add, change, or remove information from the boxes, and then click the Search button. Your new results will be below.

Q: How does searching for multiple record-types impact my search? 
If you are searching for more than one type of record, there are a few things that change:

  • Dates: The record-types cover different periods of time, as listed next to their names in the search area. If you search for a record type in a time period for which there are no records (census records after 1905, for example) you will get no results for that type of record.
  • Available search fields: You may see search fields that only apply to some records. For example, neither State Census nor Veterans’ Graves Registrations use the Middle Name field. If a record-type does not use a field, the search ignores it for that type. So if you search for Death and State Census records for John James Smith, the death search tab will have results with all 3 names but the census search tab will have all the John Smiths.

Q: How does the Sounds Like search work?  
“Sounds Like” searches use Soundex, an indexing system based on how a name sounds rather than how it is spelled. It enables one-step searching for alternate spellings. Soundex will find some names that are very close in spelling (Anderson, Andersen, and Andreson, for example), as well as names that are different in spelling but are pronounced similarly or have similar base consonants (O’Brien, Obring, Overom, and Obermann, for example).

Because Soundex utilizes the first letter of a name, it is crucial that this letter is known and has been correctly transcribed from documents (for example, Yorgeson and Jorgeson may be pronounced the same, but will not show up in the same “sounds like” search).

Q: What are the results under the Comments tab? 
They are comments left by users like you! Researchers can comment on any record and often leave information about alternate spellings, nicknames, etc. that can help other researchers. The system searches the full text of comments, and clicking on a comment in the results page will open the full index record. Please feel free to leave any comments that you think would be helpful to other researchers.

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. You can contact our Reference Staff by phone (651-259-3300), or through email or Facebook.

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, free of charge.

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.

Minnesota 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.

Unusual 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, 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 peoplesearch@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 also appears to be the case for 1980 and 1991.
  • 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 Gale Family Library can assist you in narrowing this search and see "How do I locate death certificates on the microfilm?"
  • If a Minnesotan died outside of Minnesota, their death record would be in the state in which the person died.
  • See the Search Tips above for hints specific to death records and/or contact Reference Staff for assistance

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. If these certificates were microfilmed, the Minnesota Historical Society does not hold the microfilm. Researchers seeking numbers falling within these missing ranges should contact the Minnesota Department of Health.

Q: Does the Death Certificate Index reflect official corrections or amendments made to death records? 
No. This index only reflects information on death certificates as they were received by MNHS after being microfilmed in 2001. The index serves as an access tool to the historical records, and is not the official record. For access to certificates with corrections or amendments, contact the Minnesota Department of Health.

Q: There is an error on the original certificate. Can I request a correction to the actual record? 
Yes. You can contact the Office of Vital Records in the Minnesota Department of Health and they can amend the official record. See their website for more information. Note: amending a record with the MN Department of Health will not amend historic copies held at the MN Historical Society, county health departments, or elsewhere.

More help

If you have any questions, please contact the Reference staff at the Gale Family Library by phone (651-259-3300), via email, or through Facebook.