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If Death Records in Indiana Were Mandated in 1882, Why Can’t I Find Them

Blog post by Randi Richardson

According to the Seymour (IN) Weekly Democrat of September 22, 1881, as of 1882 undertakers and physicians were required by law to make weekly reports to the city clerk of deaths or burials within city limits or places under the control of the city.  The report was to include the name of said person, sex, age, place of death, where buried, the disease of which said person died if known, and the attending physician if known.  Failure to act according to the law would result in a fine of no less than one dollar and no greater than $25 for each conviction.

The key word here is “city.”  Small towns not yet large enough to be identified as a city were not required to comply, and many didn’t.  In Monroe County, for example, one might find a death record in Bloomington 1882-1920 but few, if any, records of deaths from smaller communities or the rural areas of the county.

Although a state-wide registration of deaths was required by 1900, according to my research, the reporting of all deaths throughout Indiana did not appear to occur with 100 percent compliance until about 1920 when greater effort was made to enforce the law.


Within the past few years Ancestry (a paid subscription website) and the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library at Indianapolis have made available copies of statewide death certificates from 1899 (sketchy) through 2011.

The earliest death certificate for Monroe County to appear on Ancestry is dated October 2, 1899, and records the death of S. S. Shelburn (as noted above) who died in Bean Blossom Township.  Look for earlier Monroe County death records, not necessarily death certificates, at the county level.  The Monroe County WPA death record index covering the period from 1882-1920 is a useful guide to what is available.