I am researching my great uncle, James Barton (no middle initial), trying to find a death record. I believe he was living in Mt. Victory, Hardin County, Ohio in 1900. I found a 'James Barton' married to Grace Barton with a child (Opalin) listed on this U.S. Census.

I believe this might be my great uncle as he was raised about 50 miles from Mt. Victory. I know he died before 1910 and following Grace Barton's timeline, I found she remarried in 1910 - on her marriage record she was listed as a widow. I'm assuming her husband, James Barton died and was buried in Mt. Victory, Ohio.

I have searched multiple on-line databases looking for a death record for my great uncle without success. I have searched in Ohio and surrounding states. Have also done searches using alternative spelling of the last name.

I recently discovered and contacted the Hardin County Genealogy Society and they are researching to see if they have a death record that has not been indexed. The woman that responded to my email mentioned, '... if his death was recorded, we would have it.'

Is it possible in the U.S. for a death within a city / town to have not been recorded?

Another friend doing family research mentioned that sometimes 'you just can't find a death record'. I don't understand why that would be possible in the 1900's in the U.S.

It seems there would have to be some kind of death record by a coroner or funeral home in order to bury someone.

UPDATE: I received feedback from the Hardin County Historical Society and they could not find a death record for my great uncle James Barton. The woman that responded said she knew of two doctors in Hardin county that 'refused to write death certificates unless they were paid to do so.'

Feedback from user2448131 to my initial inquiry was valuable (Thanks for that!) re: the State of Ohio not making death certificates mandatory until after 1908.

The website linked (Ohio Connections) listing a 'Barton James Sep 25, 1908 Franklin Vol. Sep-Oct/GR9231 Cert. 1936' was not my ancestor - the age at death was too old.

So without a death certificate, where do I look next to find a burial site or accurate date of death? On the on the 1900 census James's mother claimed five living children, whereas on the 1910 Federal Census his mother claimed she had only four living children. As I mentioned earlier, on the 1910 Federal Census, I found a James Barton married to Grace (Hall) Barton living in Mt. Victory, Ohio. Grace Barton remarried in 1910 and the marriage certificate stated she was a widow.

As I've mentioned before, I've checked the major on-line databases (Ancestry, Family Tree, Ohio Vital Records, etc.) and can't find any burial listed for my great uncle.

Any further suggestions?

Any suggestions as to

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! Thank you for having taken the Tour to learn about our focussed Q&A format.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 18, 2018 at 3:41
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    Kathy, not an answer to your specific question but have you tried contacting the Barton Surname Study at bartonsite.org they may be able to help with your ancestor if not the question.
    – Colin
    Jan 18, 2018 at 8:53
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    Hi Colin - Thanks for your feedback. I was not aware of the Barton Surname Study, so thanks for the link. I will check them out.
    – Kathy Koch
    Jan 18, 2018 at 16:51
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    Hi, welcome to G&FH.SE! You say "I know he died before 1910" -- consider that sometimes people might be listed as widowed on the census while their husbands were still living.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jan 19, 2018 at 8:10

1 Answer 1


An article at ohiohistory.org seems to have some clues as to where to look, and has some general information on the requirements in Ohio at that time. It appears your relative may have died during a transition period for death records in the state of Ohio.

In July 1867, it became a statewide law to record deaths at the probate court of the county where the death occurred. There is no statewide index to these deaths prior to December 20, 1908.

So if the death occurred before Dec. 1908, the records should be in whatever local 'probate court' would have held jurisdiction. After that date:

On December 20, 1908, the Ohio Department of Health began recording all deaths in the state of Ohio.

So records before 1908 are dispersed in local courthouses, with no mandated indexing at any higher level. They should exist, unless the all-to-common courthouse fire or flood which could destroy locally stored information.

The web site linked to does provide a search engine, and using it comes up with one hit for a James Barton in that time frame:

Barton James Sep 25, 1908 Franklin Vol. Sep-Oct/GR9231 Cert. 1936

  • Thanks so much for this very interesting feedback. Following the link you suggested, I did find the record you referenced. I wouldn't mind paying for the record if I was sure it was my great uncle, but the name 'James Barton' was pretty common. With that said, that the record is for Franklin county, which is where my great uncle lived lends a stronger possibility to it being his death record. I am wondering if I contact the Franklin County courthouse directly to see if they can confirm persons that might be related to the James Barton on that death record being his wife Grace.
    – Kathy Koch
    Jan 19, 2018 at 17:10
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    It's a clue at least. Be happy your Ohio brick wall name is James Barton. One of mine has the last name Miller, in a county (Holmes) that literally has a town named Millersburg! I think I had the family narrowed down to 25 possibilities or so... Jan 19, 2018 at 17:38
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    Now that you have a date of death, use newspaper research to look for death notices or obituaries to see what you can find out about the James Barton who died on 25 Sep 1908. In cases like this, I try to assume that it is a different person until I find something that indicates otherwise -- that keeps me from getting ahead of myself.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jan 19, 2018 at 20:58
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    FamilySearch has the 1908 James Barton record - see familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F6KM-QML and attached image, (NB you probably need to be signed in to see the image). There are a number of resource pages online for Ohio death records, including deathindexes.com/ohio
    – bgwiehle
    Jan 20, 2018 at 12:53
  • You will find a problem in Cincinnati. The court house was burned several times before 1900. If you find a source other than the records burned in the court house, I would be most interested in it as I am trying to find Cincinnati "court house" records from 1860-1902. Apr 17, 2020 at 17:51

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