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Making sense of old handwriting

Civil Death Registers


Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person’s birth, spouse, and parents. Civil death records often exist for individuals for whom there are no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered within three days of the death in the municipality where the person died. If the deceased person was not a resident of that town, often a copy would be sent to that person's residence.

The following information will usually be found in a death record:

  • The name of the deceased. 
  • The date of death. 
  • The names of the deceased's parents. 
  • The name of the deceased's spouse, if married. 
  • The age of the deceased at the time of death. 
  • The place of the deceased's birth. 
  • The occupation of the deceased. 
  • The names of the witnesses, their ages, occupations, residence, and relationship, if any. 

Remember, married women are always recorded under their maiden surname. The informant’s name (often a relative) is also given.

Information about parents, the birth date and birthplace of the deceased, and other information in a death record may be inaccurate since the person who gave the information may not have had complete information.

Children who died before the declaration of birth was made are recorded as stillborn and are found only in the death records. This also means that when a child is recorded as stillborn, it may not necessarily be true, as a birth had to be recorded within 3 days of birth. In other words, if the child died within those three days, it would most likely not be recorded in the birth records. When looking for a stillborn child, you may have to look in the index under 'L' for 'Levenloos' (stillborn),

Those people who were born without a fixed surname are probably recorded under a patronymic or were "given" a surname posthumously, often based on the farm they were born at or lived at.

Before the invention of photocopies, when people requested a copy of a death record, the civil registration officials would provide a certificate or extract of the record. Death certificates could be a literal and complete transcription of the record or an extract of the same.

Page Information and Documents Extracted From:


Paleography Introduction