West Virginia Death Records and Death Index

It may surprise you to learn how often genealogists face this particular set of circumstances. They are aware of when their ancestor was born, when they may have married, when their children were born but they just can’t find out when they died.

There are a fair few instances where the only information missing is the death date which 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 West Virginia 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 West Virginia then read on and hopefully we can help you out.

About West Virginia

It was on June 20th 1863 that West Virginia became the 35th state to join the Union and it was as a result of the then ongoing Civil War. Virginia as a whole had seceded from the United States but the people living in the mountainous west region of the state did not like this move.

Rather than follow the rest of the state down the road to war they decided to form their own state, West Virginia. The north were of course more than happy to accept them into the Union.

Today the state is a major supplier of coal for the nation producing 15% of the annual yield for the entire country. Mountain people to their core the state motto reads Montani Semper Liberi (“Mountaineers Are Always Free”). This was proven during the Civil War and the birth of their state.

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 this state 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 Social Security Death Index 1935 – 2014

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 who, if deceased, would have been 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 U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

West Virginia Death Records and Index, 1853-1971

The West Virginia Archives and History website is gradually building a database of searchable birth, marriage and death records that spans before the Civil War up until the early 1970s. It includes scanned images of death certificates as well as death registers.

You can also order certified copies of the records found in this collection either by contacting the specific county or the West Virginia Vital Registration Office.

Click here to search West Virginia Death Records and Index, 1853-1971

West Virginia Death Index, 1853-1970

This is an index collection which lists West Virginia statewide death records for roughly the same timeframe as the above collection. It is however a more user friendly collection to search because it is located on the FamilySearch website.

FamilySearch is a free website to use as long as you have a registered account and has a whole host of global genealogy records including several collections for West Virginia. The statewide Index from 1917 – 1956 includes all 55 counties in the state.

Also included in this collection is a county level index spanning 1853 – 1970 which may not include all the recorded deaths during that time period. The county specific record keeping may be missing years or entries.

Click here to search West Virginia Death Index, 1853-1970

West Virginia Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1978 at Ancestry

This collection is found on the Ancestry.com website and will require a paid membership for you to view or use it fully. It has over 250 years of wills and probate records within the state that will have originally been recorded at the county level.

It is not a complete record of all the probate records created during this time and of course not everyone has possessions enough to warrant a probate process. If however your ancestor left a will or had probate records created you can find out some interesting facts about them from this collection.

Click here to search West Virginia Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1978

West Virginia, Census Mortality Schedule, 1870-1880

This is a very limited collection in that it only covers a couple of specific years of potential death recording. The Mortality Schedule was performed in West Virginia at the same time as the Federal Census in 1870 and 1880.

While the census recorded the people living in the state, the mortality schedule recorded those who had died in the year leading up to the census which would be from June 1869 – May 1870 and June 1879 – May 1880.

If your ancestor died during these two short periods of time in the state and their death was not recorded elsewhere the event may appear in the schedule. You can find this record at the free to use FamilySearch website.

Click here to search West Virginia, Census Mortality Schedule, 1870-1880

Death Indexes and Cemetery Burials by County

West Virginia is not a large state and it is largely rural in nature so unsurprisingly it does not have a huge collection of death records available online. That said along with the major collections on the big sites there are some county specific options for the genealogy researcher.

County Death Indexes and Cemetery Burials by County


West Virginia is a very rural and relatively young state compared to some. It saw a lot of turmoil during the Civil War so some records no longer exist. There is a shortage of records for this site but this does not mean there is nothing.

Mandatory State vital record recording started in the early 1900s in West Virginia and this collection is easy to find on several sites. Death prior to this date is more spotty in terms of recording but there is still a chance that you can find something about your ancestor.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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