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    ERC: Genealogy and Family History: Records

   Vital Records



Kings County (Brooklyn), New York
18 Feb 1948


Above is 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 permit." [webpage]

Mentions will be made here about 1938 death certificates when differences appear between this form and the one used in 1948.

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 Particulars.")
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 of Diseases.)
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 deceased?

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 from.
9. Of what country was decedent a citizen at time of death?
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 Deceased/Address

Medical Certificate of Death (to be filled out by the physician):
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 time)
18. Sex
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.
Address ____________________________________

22. Place of Burial or Cremation/Date of Burial or Cremation
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 coded):
Primary cause of death
Secondary cause of death (if any)
Type of Accident
O.T. 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 1939  
The 1938 form on the left was filled out by the attending physician.
The 1939 form shown here was filled out by the medical examiner.
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, and:
(*- 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 was: __________,
and (d) the contributory causes were: ___________________."

This form was first signed by the Assistant Medical Examiner and then approved and signed by the Chief Medical Examiner.

Additional resources that might be helpful to you if you are interested in obtaining a copy of a New York City Death Certificate:
>If the death occurred before 1949, contact the
New York City Municipal Archives.
>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:
 Apply by mail
 Apply in person
To obtain death certificates or request that changes be made in said documents:
 Death Certificate Application
 Death Certificate, Correction Form Instructions
Death Certificate, Correction Form

I'm told that the death certificates used in New York City (e.g. Manhattan, Kings, Bronx, etc.) are different than the ones used in the rest of New York State. Click here to see a copy of the New York State Department of Health Certificate of Death. Also see what a current copy of the New York State Department of Health Burial-Transit Permit looks like. Both of these forms are the ones currently used in New York State, though again, probably not in New York City.

New York State Department of Health--Genealogy Records & Resources
Obtaining a death certificate for someone who died in New York State outside of New York City

New York State Cemetery Information:
New York State Cemetery Law Manual:
Cemeteries and Crematories: Laws, Rules and Regulations of the New York State Cemetery Board.
List of Not-for-Profit Cemeteries under the Jurisdiction of the Department of State
New York State Department of State Division of Cemeteries FAQs





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