I am researching James Thomas Clements (~1834-1915) and would like to identify his mother. Arkansas Vital Records sells copies of death records from February 1, 1914. Before paying for one, I would like to know what information they contain, specifically whether they list parents' names.

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Many of the online guides on US Vital Records give an overview of what information may be on the death certificates. Some examples for Arkansas:

Ancestry's About the Database for its database Arkansas Death Index, 1914-1950, citing Johni Cerny, "Research in Birth, Death, and Cemetery Records," The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997), says:

Most contemporary death certificates include the deceased's name, sex, race, date of death, age at the time of death, place of death, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, name of spouse, Social Security number, occupation, residence, father's name, mother's name, cause of death, and place of burial. Records from some states provide the birthplace of the deceased's parents.

The RootsWeb Wiki article Arkansas Vital Records is an online version of Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA's article for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources doesn't go into depth about what might be on a death certificate.

The section on Death records in the FamilySearch Wiki article Arkansas Vital Records suggests alternatives. The Wiki article on the FamilySearch collection Arkansas Deaths and Burials includes a coverage table showing which FHL microfilms were indexed for the collection. If the death record you seek is recorded in one of the counties in this table, you might be able to get a copy of a record without ordering it by viewing the appropriate FHL film.

It is important to ask the question about whether the parents' names are likely to be on a person's death certificate -- but as we know, even if the names were supposed to be recorded, there's no guarantee that the informant knew the information. You could order the certificate, only to discover that the certificate only says "unknown".

Did the deceased have siblings? If they died in another state, you might be able to do an end-run around the problem by getting the information elsewhere.

If the death certificate doesn't have the information, consider what other records might have that information. Aids such as the United States Record Finder could help.

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