I have several people in my family tree who died at a relatively young age in 1918 -- the year of the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic in the U.S. and Europe. Unfortunately, I can't find death certificates for these individuals. Did newspapers print the names of flu victims at the time? Would statistical sources tell me which communities suffered from the out-break more than others?

  • 5
    Which country are we talking about here?
    – user104
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 5:38
  • Seeking help to find one of those missing death certificates as a separate question would seem to be a more direct way to find the information relevant to your family.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 20:50
  • 1
    @ColeValleyGirl - I'm looking for US records, but others might want records from overseas. Commented May 8, 2017 at 18:58
  • 2
    I think it likely that the subject is different enough in different countruies to warrant different questions.
    – user104
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 5:32
  • @PolyGeo I've added an update to the bottom of my answer addressing the difficulty of finding US death records online for this period.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 6:52

3 Answers 3


This will be a very general answer for the US, since we don't have a specific smaller jurisdicition, showing the types of resources that can be found.

Be on the lookout for webinars discussing the use of social history for genealogy, like the ones listed below. You'll see what kind of material can be found if you explore websites and repositories that have a wider focus than just genealogy.

  • "What Is Social History and Why Should a Genealogist Care?" presented by Annette Burke Lyttle, hosted by the Minnesota Genealogical Society on 3 May 2017.
  • "Incorporating Social History Into Your Genealogical Research" presented by Dr. Michael Lacopo, hosted by the Southern California Genealogical Society on 15 Apr 2015, and by the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society on 23 March 2017.

Resources for North America:

Individual states or localities could have reports like these:

Local Histories like this one might have lists of victims:

Local Historical Societies:

Copies of Local ordinances with regulations about how to report outbreaks:

Links for newspaper research:

Other Library resources:

Don't neglect local public libraries -- they might have 'vertical files' with newspaper articles or obituaries of local residents who died.

Additional Resources on finding death records:

  • FamilySearch's Research Wiki has extensive information on each US state's vital records, with tables showing when statewide registration starts, and when general compliance was reached. They generally have information about where you can write for records if necessary. Before statewide registration, you need to contact the county where the death occurred, which is problematic if you don't know that information.
  • Joe Beine's guide Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records is a directory of online death records for most states and some large counties such as New York City, Los Angeles, etc.
  • Be aware that if someone died away from home and was buried back home, there may be more than one death certificate, or burial transfer permits. See the post Death in the wrong place and other posts about death records from Judy G. Russell's blog The Legal Genealogist.

The epidemic was a world-wide event:

My local genealogical society (Perth County Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, Canada) has published a 21 page booklet on the epidemic, "Avondale Burials, Spanish Influenza Epidemic 1918" (2001, non-electronic), with articles and obituaries from Stratford newspapers, listing quarantines, death tolls and other news pertaining to the epidemic.

The parish register of my mother's home village (Transylvania, Romania) includes Spanish flu as cause of death in many burial entries during the epidemic.

Quite likely, the 100th anniversary of the epidemic will be commemorated in some way in many places.

(Although not a significant offering, the above was not really appropriate as a comment to Jan Murphy's answer).

  • Is the OGS booklet available? If so, link please?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 18:24

If you can find newspaper obituaries for these people, there will probably be a cause of death included. While not as conclusive as a death certificate, it may at least allow you to rule some things out. And if you look at other obituaries in the same locality within the same week or month, you might see a pattern.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.