I can't find the death record for my great grandmother Sarah Jane Tompkins Furman.

I have her birth and marriage records.

She was born 19 July 1847 in Tarrytown, Westchester NY. She married Joseph B.Furman on 16 April 1876 in Elmsford, Westchester.

Joseph was born 1 May 1851 in Albany, Albany, NY, and died 17 Mar 1910 in Tacoma, Pierce, Washington.

Joseph is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Grave location is Blk 162, Sp. 3,  SW C which is close to the southwest corner of the cemetery. Sarah is not buried there.

The last document I have for Sarah is from 1911. She is listed in the Tacoma City Directory 1911 as widow of Jos. B 305 So. L St.

I have contacted the the Piece Co Genealogy Society and a local library but nothing.

In 1911 she would have been 64 years old.

I do wonder if she remarried or returned to New York.

I don't know where to look.

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! I extended your title a little to make it more explicit and added a few tags to try and attract potential answerers who may specialize in them. Thankyou for providing a detailed and clear question.
    – PolyGeo
    Oct 20, 2014 at 2:18
  • 1
    1910 census has Sarah as a widowed renter and only 1 of her 6 children still living [archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po1663unit#page/n1137/mode/1up ] So prob. no property records to check. Is the non-burial in Oakwood per marker inscription or have the cemetery's records been reviewed? Where were her child and/or grandchildren living between 1911 & 1920?
    – bgwiehle
    Oct 20, 2014 at 14:08
  • 1
    Does she have siblings?
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 20, 2014 at 18:34
  • Also check for Probate records for Joseph -- those might give clues to the whereabouts of Sarah and the one child still living.
    – Jan Murphy
    Oct 21, 2014 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


The difficulty with finding death records is that, unfortunately, people can die anywhere. There's no guarantee you'll find them in their hometown. They could die at a hospital across a city or county line from their residence; they could die while visiting a relative, or they could die in transit. So one possibility would be to imagine where Sarah might have gone, if she had visited or gone to live with other relatives. Do you have an obituary for Joseph? Have you identified all the survivors listed there?

We can guess that Sarah died sometime after census day in 1910. The Tacoma City Directory which has a 1911 date on it was probably 'put to bed' sometime in 1910 -- we don't have any evidence about when the 1911 Directory would have been published or distributed. Sometimes if you read the front matter in the directory, you can find internal evidence that will provide a clue about what month the directory was distributed, but usually I just try to remember that the information in a directory is likely to be from the year before the date on the title page.

The FamilySearch Wiki article Washington Vital Records says that statewide registration of deaths began in 1907, but general compliance didn't happen until 1917. So -- assuming for the moment that she did die in Washington state -- this means to find a death record, you might have to go to the county where the death took place -- not a trivial task when you don't know where that might be.

Sources of Genealogical Information is a checklist of other records you might check to find a date and place of death.

Joe Beine's Online Washington Death Records & Indexes is a guide to resources available to search for people who died in Washington State.

New York State Records

There are a couple of reasons that researching vital records in New York State is not as straightforward as it might seem. First, not all the New York State records can be found in one place. New York City keeps its own records, so anything post-consolidation needs to be looked for in NYC. Albany, Buffalo, and Yonkers also keep some of their own records. A good explanation of all the exceptions can be found in this guide to genealogy records and resources from the New York State Department of Health.

Another problem is, if she died in New York State, and you are researching from outside the state, you may have difficulty finding her via an online search.

The FamilySearch Wiki Article, New York Vital Records has a list of online resources. Their article says:

Most online resources for New York Vital Records are indexes. The official New York state vital records index is held on microfiche at select libraries in New York. According to state law this index cannot be copied. Therefore it cannot be put online and cannot be viewed out of state. After locating a person in an index always consult the original record to confirm the information in the index.

Because of this, you may have less of a chance of finding an entry in an online index for a death in New York State, compared with some of the surrounding states like Massachusetts, whose governments or archives provide a searchable index.

The New York State Archives has research guides for genealogy researchers. See Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for a list of which libraries hold copies of the microfiche index.

Joe Beine's Online New York Death Records, Indexes & Obituaries provides a guide to many searchable indexes, starting with statewide resources, then organized by county.

If you're feeling adventurous, for New York State newspaper research, try FultonHistory.com.

  • 1
    FYI Sarah and Joseph were in Cook County, Illinois in 1880, with a daughter born abt 1878 in IL. Another daughter was born in 1885 in Wisconsin. (No idea if either was the surviving child in 1910). I couldn't find the 1900 enumeration, so don't know when they might have moved to Washington state. The priority should be to look at places with close 'current' family connections, rather than past residence.
    – bgwiehle
    Oct 20, 2014 at 21:44

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