The Museum of Family History

HOME          SITE MAP          ABOUT THE MUSEUM          FEEDBACK          OPPORTUNITIES          LINKS

   ERC: Genealogy and Family History: Records

  Vital Records


Some notes before I discuss the death certificate and burial-transit permit shown below. I can only detail here what procedures are followed in New York State, as the rules, regulations and procedures vary from state to state. Also, the death certificate and burial-transit permit forms used in New York State is different than those used in New York City. Some of the differences are that the New York State form is filled out in triplicate, the New York City form is not. The New York State form lists cause of death, the New York City form does not (this is true at least for the last ten years.)

When a person passes away in a hospital, the attending physician fills out the part of the death certificate that is his or hers to complete. Remember that it is the "attending physician" who fills out the form, not the physician on duty at the time or the emergency room physician. The attending physician is most likely the one who has acted as the family physician or your internist, or perhaps he is the one who is a specialist, who has been attending to their treatment. Just as you must wait for your attending physician to pay you a visit during your stay in a hospital, this is also the case when a person passes away. Hopefully, when a person does pass away, the attending physician will come that day to the hospital and fill out his part of the death certificate, but this can't be guaranteed.

If someone passes away at home, the police must be called. If, after examining the scene, foul play, suicide, etc. has  been ruled out, it is then up to the local Medical Examiner to decide whether they need to perform an autopsy before releasing the body to a funeral parlor. If the ME/Coroner chooses to receive the body, then it is up to him or her after examining the body, to fill out the medical portion of the death certificate.

Either way, once that part of the death certificate has been filled out and the family of the deceased has chosen a funeral home, the body is picked up along with the partially-filled out death certificate and brought to the funeral home where the body will be prepared for burial. If for some reason the medical portion of the death certificate has not been filled out by the time the body has been delivered to the funeral home, the funeral director fills out their portion of the certificate.

There is more, of course, to this process. The family of the deceased sits down with the funeral director who proceeds to ask questions about the deceased so the death certificate can be completed properly. The information gathered by the director is listed below. It should be noted that the name of the deceased is listed twice on the death certificate--once by the certifying physician or coroner/medical examiner and once by the funeral director. If the funeral director learns that a mistake has been made by the physician, e.g., the name of the deceased has been spelled wrong, he may correct it. There is also no hard and fast rule that states that any of the information entered onto a death certificate has to be typed. It is usually hand-written (hopefully in a legible fashion.)

Once the death certificate has been completely filled out, it is manually brought to the local registrar's office. In New York City the registrar is the
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Vital Records. In other towns, it may be the City Clerk in the Town Hall. Next comes the Burial-Transit. cont...

Sample of a current
New York State
Death Certificate
(left-click on this thumbnail photo and the one below in order to see a larger image)

Please look at this sample of the death certificate that is used today in New York State and compare it with the ones used in the 1930s and 1940s [webpage]. This newest form is, more or less, broken down into four parts, two of which are filled out by the Funeral Director, and two by the Certifying Physician/ME). The Funeral Director writes in the information about the decedent, including date of birth, race, level of education, usual occupation, etc. This part also includes a request for the names of the decedent's parents and their address. The Director also fills out the disposition information, e.g. the method of disposition of the body, the place of burial, and the particulars about the funeral home and director, etc.
The Certifying Physician/ME/Coroner fills out the "Certifier" part. This includes his/her information including license number; also the manner of death, i.e. natural causes, accident, homicide, suicide, undetermined circumstances, or "pending investigation."  Lastly, the Cause of Death is filled out, i.e. the immediate cause, and any other conditions that might have contributed to their death. Interesting enough, the question is posed as to whether tobacco use contributed to the death, and did the death occur at work, etc.



Once the completely filled out death certificate is hand-delivered to the local registrar's office, the clerk there looks over the form to make sure it was filled out properly. If everything is in order, the death certificate is approved and an official stamp is place upon it. The registrar's office assigns a unique number to the certificate. The desired number of copies of the death certificate are ordered. Then, a burial-transit permit is filled out and approved. This will allow the burial to take place. Occasionally, the funeral director fills out the permit at the funeral home and brings it along with the death certificate to the local registrar for approval. Whichever the case, if all the forms are filled out properly, the death certificate and permit are approved and the burial-transit permit is returned to the funeral director. The director then calls up the cemetery where the person is to be buried, giving them all the pertinent information, which may be entered onto a form that the cemetery will use (see below the "Grave Order Memorandum" form). Arrangements are made for the burial between the funeral director and the cemetery.

It must be pointed out that a burial cannot take place in New York State without a burial-transit permit accompanying the body for burial. Also remember that cemeteries do not generally have copies of individual death certificates, only burial-transit permits. On their premises they may only have the more recent ones; however, the permits that are associated with much older burials, e.g. pre-World War II, may no longer be extant or may be stored away somewhere in a different location.


Sample of a
New York City "Permit to Dispose
of or Transport
Human Remains"

New York State Public Health Law 4145
"Deaths; burials and removal permits; disposition of remains"
  On the top left is the burial-transit permit form that is used in New York City. You can see the differences if you review what information they are asking  for.

Read more about burial-transit permits and see different examples of these forms.

(Just left-click on each thumbnail photo to see a larger image, then again, if needed, on the enlargement icon at the bottom right of the photo that appears a few seconds after the mouse cursor is place in that corner.)

Grave Order Memorandum .

  This is an example of a "Grave Order Memorandum," i.e. a form that a cemetery might use to take down the pertinent information that is given to them when the funeral director calls them up to arrange for a burial.

>What information is asked for?
Time ordered
Burial date
Name of  deceased
Location (plot or society)
Location (grave number or other description)
Ordered by




Copyright 2006-11 Museum of  Family History

All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy