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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - December/January 2006
The Potential Importance of Coroner or Medical Examiner Records

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 deceased.

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 
Reference Librarian 
Fort Myers-Lee County Library

Return to December/January 2006 Index page


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