I have an ancestor who died rather young (late forties) at a time when there was no major military conflict. This was post-1900 as well so life expectancy wouldn't excuse this as a natural death.

He died in England in 1958 according to a death registration which contains only the district, year of birth and year of death but no one in my family ever met him so we can't contact any immediate family as of right now.

Are there any documents recording cause of death that would be publicly available from this time period?

3 Answers 3


There are several places one might find information about a cause of death for a person who died in England and Wales in the 1950s:

  • Death certificate: As per Adrian's answer, the death certificate is the obvious place to find the answer. The cheapest way to obtain a certificated copy of an entry of death from England and Wales is from the GRO. The statutory fee for a death certificate is currently £9.25. Contacting the local district where the original registers are held is also another means of obtaining the certificate, but the fees are either the same or higher than the GRO. Current legislation prevents researchers from accessing the information contained in death registers by any means other than certificates.

    The answers to a previous question about UK death certificate details in 1908, shows the format of a death certificate from England and Wales in 1907; the same format was still used in 1958:

    enter image description here

  • Cemetery registers: Sometimes cemetery registers contain a cause of death column, but it will vary by cemetery. Church of England burial registers do not contain cause of death information unless it is entered into the margin by an overachieving vicar. This is an example of a cemetery register that contains a column for cause of death, from Huthwaite Cemetery in Nottinghamshire, 1933:

    enter image description here

  • Newspapers: Searching newspapers on, for example, the British Newspaper Archive, may reveal some information if your ancestor had a strange, sudden, or remarkable death. Libraries in the locality of the death are more likely to hold newspapers that pertain to the place and period of interest. It could be a painstaking, possibly fruitless exercise to search for a newspaper not even knowing the date or place of death.

  • Coroner records: Rarely (and I can't emphasize rarely enough) coroner's reports may survive for deaths that had an inquest, which can be a treasure trove of information. These reports are usually archived locally, see the local records office for more information. I would not recommend searching these before obtaining the death certificate, which will state if a post mortem took place.

  • Medical or institional records: If your ancestor died in a hospital or institution, records may survive pertaining to that institution. Medical records will no doubt be closed to the public for 100 years, however you may be able to obtain access to a particular ancestor's records by seeking permission from the relevant Health Authority.

My approach with cause of death is to start with the death certificate, and if it looks like there might be some more interesting information pertaining to the death, then start to see what other avenues of research might be taken.


The death certificate itself, surely.

I am assuming that what you have seen is only an index to the death certificates, as I have never seen death certificates without cause of death. We can't be more specific without knowing which administration issued the certificate.

The link below is to an index to the General Registrar Office certificates for England and Wales. FindMyPast carries indexes only to those certificates. Ditto Ancestry by the way. To get anything other than the fairly trivial data in the index, you need to send for the certificate itself from the GRO. Use link to GRO site. That carries cause of death.

I recommend that you read some basic books or articles about family history otherwise you'll be wasting your own time.

  • Its not a death certificate per se, its a registration of death that has all deaths from the time on it. Here's a link: search.findmypast.co.uk/…
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 18:25
  • That's literally all I have in terms of his death right now.
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 18:25
  • Where would I dig to find out more?
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 18:30
  • See my edits above.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 18:38
  • I can't afford to use Ancestry if that's what you're suggesting. And to be fair I'm getting by with free sites really rather well. Findmypast is free from my library and heritage centre so that's why I'm using that. I'll get over to GRO though, cheers
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 18:45

As already stated in previous answers, the obvious course of action is to use the reference in the registration you've already found and order the certificate from the GRO's Certificate Ordering Service.

From the GRO's Most customers want to know:

Q1. What information will I see on a certificate?

The details contained on a death certificate include:

Name, date and place of death.
Date and place of birth (before 1969 a certificate only showed age of deceased).
Occupation and usual address.
Cause of death.
The person who gave information for the death registration.

They provide a Guide to Death Certificates which includes an example of a pre-1969 death certificate.

Elsewhere on the page they show the cost of ordering the certificate:

enter image description here

Click through to their site to see their explanation of delivery times and to find other information about getting started with family history.

An indirect method to get more information -- to determine if the GRO reference you've found might be the person you're looking for -- is to do a probate search to see what information might be in the probate calendar. This will not show a cause of death, but may give you a date and place of death, a residence, and other identifying details.

enter image description here

I picked an entry at random from 1958 as an example. Other entries on the same page listed the hospital at which the person died.

The will or administration won't give the cause of death, but if you decide you want whatever information might be in the probate papers, you can order the will online.

For more help with determining if you have the right GRO certificate before you order, see these questions:

  • I've added boldface to all the links in my answer to make them more visible.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 21:10

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