pictured a certificate of death, issued in Kings County
(Brooklyn), New York. Each death certificate is numbered,
on this particular form in the upper right corner. Please
note that you can also find these numbers by either
visiting the New York City Municipal Archives at 31
Chambers Street, where you can actually find the death
certificate on microfilm, or by visiting
searching their death index database. Both choices are
valid if the death occurred between 1891 and 1948 in any
of the boroughs of New York City.
Please visit the webpage that discusses the procedures
most often followed when a person passes away, is moved to
a funeral home, and is buried in a cemetery. This includes
an explanation of who fills out what part of the death
certificate and what the purpose is of a "burial-transit
Mentions will be made here about 1938 death certificates
when differences appear between this form and the one used
If you look closely at the death certificate above you
will see that it was filled out by at least three people.
One person filled out numbers 1-14. Line 15 is
signed by the person who was informed about the deceased's
passing. The person supplying the signature probably gave
the Funeral Director the particulars for their deceased
family member. These entries were known as the "Personal
Particulars," and were supposed to be filled out by the
Funeral Director (1938: "Personal and Statistical
Lines 15-21 are filled out by the doctor who attended the
deceased before their passing. I imagine that the narrow
column to the extreme left of the certificate is also
filled out by the doctor, who must enter the cause of
death, indicated by a numerical code or two, if there is a
secondary cause of death. The numbers 1 and 2, shown
within a white circle, indicate the location of these
codes. You can learn more about these codes by visiting
the page that deals with the
ICD (International Classification
Lines 22-23 is probably filled out by someone, not
necessarily the Funeral Director, at the funeral parlor.
> What are the "personal particulars" entered for the
The 1938 death certificate form begins with a
request for the name of the borough and street address
where the death occurred; and the "character of the
premises, whether tenement, private, hotel, etc." Here
there is request made for of a Social Security number.
Now, back to the 1948 death certificate as shown above:
1. Name of Deceased (First Name, Middle Name and Last
Name), along with the Social Security Number, if any
2. Usual Residence: Street Address, City, County and
State; also the "length of residence or stay in city of
New York immediately prior to death.
3. Martial Status
4. Name of Wife or Husband
5. Date of Birth of Decedent
6. Age at Death (in years, months and days; another option
is for hours and minutes)
7. Occupation: (a) Trade, profession or particular kind of
work done, as spinner, lawyer, bookkeeper, etc.; (b)
Industry or business in which work was done, as silk mill,
saw mill, bank, own business, etc. A 1938 death
certificate added (c) Date deceased last worked at this
occupation (month and year), and (d) Total time (in years)
spent in this occupation.
8. Birthplace of Decedent (City/Town/Village, County,
State). Note that for those born abroad a town and country
may be listed, though often one finds only a
country, e.g. Russia. No doubt many parents never
discussed their lives in places such as pre-war Europe,
nor did they ever mention what town or village they came
9. Of what country was decedent a citizen at time of
10. Was deceased (a) war veteran? If so, name war.
Note that question 10 was probably added during and after
World War II. On the 1938 form, two questions were
present that are not present here in the 1948 certificate.
They were: 11. How long in U.S. (if of foreign birth), and
12. How long resident in City of New York?
Parents of deceased:
11. Name of father of decedent
12. Birthplace of father (state or country)--sometimes the
town, region and country were listed here or in no.15.
13. Maiden name of mother of decedent
14. Birthplace of mother (state or country)
15. Signature of Informant/Relationship to
Medical Certificate of Death (to be filled out by the
16. Place of Death
(a) New York City; (b) Borough; (c) Name of Hospital or
Institution (if not in hospital or institution, give
street and number.) In the death certificate above, the
death occurred at home; (d) If in hospital, give ward no.;
(e) Length of stay at place of death.
17. Date and Hour of Death (given in month, day, year and
19. Color or Race
20. Approximate Age
21. I hereby certify that (I attended the deceased)* (a
staff member attended the deceased)* from ________19____,
to ________19____, and last saw h__ alive at __m on
_______19____. I further certify that death
**_______caused, directly or indirectly by accident,
homicide, suicide, acute or chronic poisoning, or in any
suspicious or unusual manner, and that it was due to
NATURAL CAUSES more fully described in the confidential
medical report filed with the Department of Health.
*-cross out words that do not apply.
**-see first instruction on reverse of certificate.
Note that on the 1938 death certificate, there no
codes, no numbers that specify the causes of death.
Rather, what is requested following the date of death is:
"The primary cause of death and related causes of
importance were as follows. Also, a column was created
that requested the duration of these illnesses, i.e. from
date of onset to date of death. Lines are also provided
for "other contributory causes of importance." Then,
spaces are provided for: Type of Operation, Date (of
Operation), "What Test Confirmed Diagnosis?" and "Was
There an Autopsy?"
Witness my hand this _____ day of _______19_____.
Signature _______________________________, M.D.
22. Place of Burial or Cremation/Date of Burial or
23. Funeral Director/Address/Permit No.
Bureau of Records and Statistics, Department of Health,
City of New York
The Bureau or Records, Department of Health places a stamp
with its name and date of certificate filing.
Column on far left of certificate, top to bottom (all
Primary cause of death
Secondary cause of death (if any)
Type of Accident
The form also states on the extreme left of the form:
"This certificate not valid unless filed in the Health
Department. Do not write in this space. Margin reserved
for coding and binding."
It seems that the death certificate form varied depending
on circumstances. If there was a question as to the cause
of death and a need existed for the medical examiner to
perform an autopsy, a slightly different form was used.
1938 form on the left was filled out by the
The 1939 form shown here was filled out by the
The two forms displayed here are only part of the
full death certificate but are shown here to
illustrate the differences that exist between the
two. Both deaths took place in Kings County
(Brooklyn), New York:
In the 1939 form, no. 21 states "I hereby certify
(a) that in accordance with sections 878-2.0 and
878-3.0 of the Administrative Code for the City of
New York, I went to, and took charge of of the dead
body at __________ this _____ day of ______ 19__."
In this case the body was picked up from the City
Mortuary. Part (b) states "that I examined the body
and investigated the circumstances of this death,
(*- cross out the words that do not apply.)
I further certify from the investigation, (complete
autopsy)* (partial autopsy)* (incision)* and
examination (c) that, in my opinion, death on the
date and the hour stated above and resulted from
(natural causes)* (accident)* (suicide)* (homicide)*
(undetermined circumstances pending further
investigation)*, that the principal cause of death
and (d) the contributory causes were:
This form was first signed by the Assistant Medical
Examiner and then approved and signed by the Chief
Additional resources that might be helpful to you if you
are interested in obtaining a copy of a New York City
>If the death occurred before 1949, contact the
New York City
>If the death occurred in 1949 or later, you can obtain
records from the New York City Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene's Office of Vital Records. You can do this
in either of two ways:
To obtain death certificates or request that changes be
made in said documents: