If you discover that the subject of your
genealogical search passed away as a result of an accident, suicide, or
other questionable means, you should always turn to the records maintained
by the Coroner or Medical Examiner. Records maintained by Funeral Homes
and Cemeteries, and the information they contain will vary by region and
time period. The same obviously holds true with Death certificates.
However, deaths that fall into any type of questionable category will
involve some form of investigation by law enforcement authorities. These
circumstances will often be noted in most records maintained by Funeral
Homes, Cemeteries, and the Certificate of Death generated by the County
Health Department. The Coroner or Medical Examiner will always be called
on by law enforcement to determine a cause of death when suspicious
circumstances arise during the investigation. These circumstances
generate a paper trail. The information from the Coroner or Medical
Examiner must be completed before the local law enforcement agency can
complete its police report.
Information in a typical entry may include some or all of the following:
name of the deceased, age, date of birth, cause of death, occupation, next
of kin, witnesses to the event (if any), and other family members or
acquaintances who knew the person. Though the information may be in brief
details, they often provide significant information regarding family
members that were interviewed or who provided information about the
Coroner or Medical Examiner records are often housed in the municipal
archives of the city or in the county or state archives. You must
determine whether the Coroner or Medical Examiner was a local, county, or
state position at the time of the death you are researching. Step two
involves determining if the records are in an archive or still in the city
or county of original jurisdiction. Step three will involve determining
what the latest guidelines are for access to the data. Some jurisdictions
may limit access based on your ability to prove a direct ancestral
connection to the deceased. This is most likely for any death that has
occurred within the past 50-75 years.
One example of a major published source used by genealogists searching in
New York City would be the "Coroner's Reports, New York City, 1823-1842."
This title is published by the New York Genealogical and Biographical
Society. Similar titles have been published in other areas of the
country. Some of these sources are also available through a variety of
on-line sites as well.
Bryan L. Mulcahy
Fort Myers-Lee County Library