Many head-stones only show the year of death, not the full date. Others may record the internment date rather than date of death.

Where would I locate more accurate dates of death before the 1800's in the US?

  • 1
    Record circumstance varies greatly between countries and locations within countries. If this an actual problem you face, don't hesitate to add specifics.
    – GeneJ
    Oct 24 '12 at 16:16
  • @GeneJ - it's not an immediate question I have, but drcadkgenes has provided what I think is a good generalized answer :)
    – warren
    Oct 25 '12 at 20:50
  • also - to the editors, I did mean for this to be generic: do answers really vary that much based on country?
    – warren
    Oct 25 '12 at 20:51
  • 1
    Record circumstance varies greatly here in the US. In New England, for example, there are town record books, but those are not so common elsewhere. Newspapers records prior to the 1800s are extant for some US locations. Consider too that jurisdictional boundaries (state, county, etc.) also changed frequently. Courthouse fires impact specific areas. Some locations had established churches with established ministers, while other areas were served by traveling preachers.
    – GeneJ
    Oct 25 '12 at 21:48
  • 1
    As to countries, perhaps even more. I've accessed any number of pre-1800 parish records in Norway, for example. (In another life, may all my ancestors be Norwegian!) I read a blog post not long ago reporting it was common in some places to re-use graves after a certain period. (Ha, Warren! I guess there would be no gravestone to seek records about in that case.)
    – GeneJ
    Oct 26 '12 at 1:37

There are two sources you could try. Check with the county or state for will probates, which will give you a closer proximity.

Sometimes, land records, where the deed for the land the person owned changes hands.


Disclaimer: I haven't done much research in the period, but these are the questions I would ask and attempt to answer if I were looking to confirm a death date for a pre-1800 tombstone.

  • Are there any clues that would indicate the age of the stone? Who might have been in charge of the cemetery at the time? e.g. if a church, can I find burial records for that church in local or state archives? (records about a replaced stone might be a pointer to other family members, or historical / genealogical societies or repositories who might have more information)
  • Can I find published genealogies for this person? Do the authors list their sources? What sources might have been available to them in the period before the book was published?
  • Can I find bible records for this family? Are there diaries of other family members that might mention this person's death? If they survive, what repositories might hold them?
  • What entity would have held probate records? If records survive, what repositories might hold them?
  • Which historical newspapers might cover this area? What issues survive, and who holds them?
  • What other records were required or kept in this area during the time period this person was living? Which of those records might still exist, and if so, who holds them? (land records, tax records, church records, etc.)
  • What can I find out about friends, neighbors, associates (the FAN club or cluster)? This gives you other ways to search published indexes if you can't find the subject by his/her own name, and makes it easier to recognize that you have the right person if you find records.
  • What clues can I get from studying histories of the period / area, even if they don't list my subject by name?

When records are scanty, look at everything you can think of (not just the records that you think will have a date of death) because it's impossible to tell which one of those records might hold a clue that will lead you to a record which does have the death date.


Very, very occasionally, luck will smile upon you and the records of the doctor who attended the family will have survived in a repository somewhere (a society, a library, an archive). If not published in book form, perhaps a transcription is available in a genealogical or historical journal.


  • Be sure to utilize InternetArchives, Googlebooks, Amazon, etc to find a printed copy if such records exist.
  • Be sure to utilize PERSI (Periodical Source Index) at HeritageQuest to find a transcription that has been printed in a journal. Ask your research librarian how to access HQ.

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