California Death Records and Death Index

You might be surprised how often genealogists face this set of circumstances. They know when their ancestor was born, when they were married, when their children were born but they just can’t confirm when they died.

I have found a fair few instances where the only information missing is a death date and this can be very frustrating. This is why knowing what death records may be available to you can be vital in your research.

It is important to note that one of the biggest issues in finding a death record can be looking in the wrong place. You may be surprised how often people miss records because they are looking in the wrong county and sometimes even the wrong state.

In this post we will be looking at California state death records and indexes to try and help you find those elusive ancestors. So if you are confident that your ancestor likely died in the state of California then read on and hopefully we can help you out.

About California

The first Spanish missionaries arrived in California during the 1700s but it would not become a territory unto itself until 1847. Just a year later gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill sparking the gold rush and by September 9th, 1850 California had become a State.

It is among the larger states at 163,694 square miles and as of 2010 had a population of 37,253,956. Also known as the Golden State it is home to areas of tremendous natural beauty and is considered one of the major hubs of the entertainment industry.

Social Security Death Index 1935 – 2014

All American citizens, naturalized immigrants and resident aliens require a Social Security number for proof of identification and authorization to work. This number follows us throughout our life and when we die this nine digit code is very important.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a database of death records that was compiled from the United States Social Security Administration Death Master File. This was until 2014 when the rules changed and public access to the Death Master File had to take place through a certification program.

Those researching the deaths of ancestors in California will likely find that most people who have died between 1936 and 2014 can be found on the Social Security Death Index. This does however only hold true if the person had a Social Security number when they died.

It is estimated that since 1973 the SSDI recorded 93% to 96% of the deaths of individuals aged 65 or over. The index was updated frequently and by June of 2011 there were 89,835,920 records available.

The index can be found on websites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry.com and offers details such as:

  • Given name and surname (middle initial since the 1990s)
  • Date of birth
  • Month and year of death (Full date of death for accounts active after 2000)
  • Social Security number
  • State or territory Social Security number was issued
  • Last place of residence when alive including ZIP code

Click here to search on Ancestry

U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

This is more or less an extension of the information you can find from the Social Security Death Index. It has been extracted from the SSDI records but features more details. It does not include all of the names found in the SSDI however but there are at least 49 million names included.

In this record you may find additional information such as:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Parents names if deceased would be over 75 when you are viewing the records (may be redacted if under 75)
  • Citizenship status
  • Gender
  • Sometimes race or ethnic group

Click here to search on Ancestry

California Death Records Index, 1940-1997

This is an index that can be found on Ancestry so it requires a paid subscription to fully access. Vital records such as birth and death certificates have been kept in California since July 1st, 1905 and this collection spans the years 1940 -1997

The records come from the registrar of vital statistics for the State and this index only consists of a brief transcription of the death certificate. To get an actual death certificate you would have to contact the registrar at.

California Department of Health Services

Office of Vital Records

M.S. 5103

P.O. Box 997410

Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

Click here to search on Ancestry

California Death Index, 1905-1939

Those looking for earlier records than the above will find this index helpful. It is essentially the same index as above but covers the earlier records between 1905 – 1939. Again full copies of the records listed in this index will require an application and a fee.

Click here to search on Ancestry

California Death Indexes on Familysearch

The two above indexes for 1905 – 1939 and 1940 – 1997 are also available to view on Familysearch.org. There is no requirement for a subscription here so if you do not have one with Ancestry membership you should use Familysearch instead.

California Death Index, 1905-1939 at FamilySearch

California Death Index, 1940-1997 at FamilySearch

Pre-1905 California Death Index Project

Just because California didn’t start keeping State vital records until 1905 doesn’t mean there were no earlier records. This project is found on Rootsweb and lists transcribed death records prior to 1905. All California counties are mentioned but not all have details.

This is a hit and miss database which may or may not result in information for you. That said it is worth checking if you know your ancestors name as well as when and where they likely died.

Search

County Specific Indexes

Those who know what county their ancestor may have died in might be wise to look at some county specific databases. The table below will show some of these.

County Records
Alameda
Amador
Anaheim See Orange County
Bakersfield See Kern County
Butte
Contra Costa
Fresno
Humboldt
Kern
Lassen
Lodi See San Joaquin
Los Angeles
Marin
Mariposa
Mendocino
Merced
Modesto
  • See Stanislaus County
Monterey
Napa
Nevada
Oakland
  • See Alameda
Orange
Placer
Riverside
Sacramento
San Benito
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Francisco
San Joaquin
San Mateo
Santa Ana
  • See Orange County
Santa Barbara
Santa Clara
  • Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society Website includes burial indexes for the Mission City Memorial Park Cemetery (Santa Clara, CA) and the Saratoga IOOF Cemetery; plus two funeral home indexes and more
  • https://www.scchgs.org/
Santa Cruz
Shasta County
Siskiyou
Solano
Sonoma
Stanislaus
Stockton
  • See San Joaquin
Tulare
Tuolumne
Ventura
Yolo

Conclusion

California is a very large and well populated state with strict rules regarding access to vital records. If you want to access a death certificate from the state you will need to apply officially and pay a fee. There are plenty of resources for pre-death certificate years and plenty of indexes that can help you locate the right certificates to order

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  • " California Death Records and Death Index". NameCensus.com. Accessed on October 1, 2022. https://namecensus.com/blog/california-death-records-and-death-index/.

  • " California Death Records and Death Index". NameCensus.com, https://namecensus.com/blog/california-death-records-and-death-index/. Accessed 1 October, 2022

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