Lost Texas Death Certificates

 

"Lost" Texas Death Certificates

By James Pylant

COPYRIGHT © 2005—ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
DO NOT PUBLISH OR POST WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION


More than 30 million vital records are stored in row after row of mobile bookshelves at the Texas Department of Health, in Austin, with births and marriages in blue binders and deaths and divorces in red binders. The State of Texas required its county offices to begin registering deaths on 1 January 1903, filing the record at the county courthouse and submitting a duplicate to the State.

"Penalty for Failure to Report Within Ten Days" was "$5.00 to $50.00." Curiously, other certificates from that same year required physicians and undertakers to complete a death certificate within twenty-four hours or pay a fine of up to $100.00. Despite warnings, the law was not strictly enforced and registrations were grossly incomplete for several years. In fact, registration did not reach 90% completeness until 1933.

A statewide sampling of early death records reveals poor record-keeping by clerks, apparently apathetic to an added responsibility. In spite of the convenience of uncomplicated, preprinted forms and ledgers, clerks were guilty of filing incomplete forms—often failing to include the death date or even the name of the deceased. Physicians and morticians were to blame as well, by filing the record in the wrong county. If the deceased lived near the county line and closer to the neighboring courthouse, his or her death certificate is often found there. Another common error was recording the certificate in the county of the deceased's residence, rather than the county where the death occurred. This is most often found when someone died suddenly during a visit out of town or while traveling.

Larger cities tended to keep better records, if anything because of more clerks on staff. Some early certificates never made it to the state office, so a copy not found at the Department of Health may exist in ledger form at the courthouse.

However, some death certificates exist but are still difficult to locate. An Index to Death Records: Texas (1903—1940) (Austin: Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Department of Health: 1964) shows a death record on file with the Texas Department of Health for Lota Crowe, certificate number 1786, who died in Navarro County, on 19 January 1914. Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Health misplaced this certificate and the Navarro County Clerk was also unable to locate the record in its office.

Most genealogists are unaware that the Department of Health also has a small number of death certificates that predate the 1903 registration. These certificates, termed "Probate Obituary Deaths," are a few scattered over the 1890s and around the turn of the century, even as early as 1878. A preprinted "Certificate of Death" shows El Paso made an effort to record deaths by 1895.

Other miscellaneous certificates are dateless, while yet another grouping are affidavits; certificates filed at a later date. Affidavits can even provide more clues than the standard death certificates. The affidavit death certificate of Douglas Eugene Thompson, number 1372, who died in Lamar, Paris County, Texas, on 1 October 1887, is an excellent example. Under "Medical Particulars," the certificate reports that the twenty-six year-old Thompson, died of pneumonia. His wife acted as nurse during his three or four-day illness, but death claimed him before the physician's arrival. This information was supplied sixty-three years later by Mrs. Tillie Weston of Aurora, Colorado. The sworn affidavit states that Mrs. Weston was "the wife of said Douglas Eugene Thompson at the time of his death." Mrs. Weston also stated that Thompson was born 6 February 1861 in Keokuky County, Iowa, to Iowa natives Thomas Thompson and Harriet (maiden name unknown). While this portion of the certificate cannot be considered a primary source, it provides valuable clues about her husband's family background. (Keokuky, for instance, is actually Keokuk.)

Besides probate obituary and affidavit deaths, the Texas Department of Health has other certificates, which are filed in volumes labeled "Dateless and Prior to 1903." Some three thousand "UNKNOWNS—1903—1940" are arranged alphabetically by county, with a date and file number. Burial dates are recorded in place of death dates. Ambiguous descriptions given in place of a name, ranging from "White Female" to "Mexican," to "Negro" to "Infant." Some have a first name or nickname but none give a surname.

 

Pre-1903 Texas Death Certificates

Although the State of Texas did not require the registration of deaths until 1903, some earlier certificates are found on file with the county and/or state office.


Death Records—County Courthouse
Surname Given Name Death Date County File No.
WHISNANT Unnamed Twin 11 Jan. 1892 Erath Vol. 3, p. 249
WHISNANT Unnamed Twin 11 Jan. 1892 Erath Vol. 3, p. 249
WHISNANT Bessie Anna 10 Jul. 1891 Erath Vol. 3, p. 250


Affidavits — Bureau of Vital Statistics
Surname Given Name Death Date County File No.
BAILEY John Henry 02 Mar. 1899 Childress 1160
BAUER Emma Burkhart 05 Jan. 1901 Tarrant 1061A [89882]
FAKES William Baird 26 Jun. 1901 McLennan 1361 [24311]
LARGENT Samuel Harvey 09 Aug. 1894 Tarrant 0122
LONG Archie, Jr. __ Mar. 1899 Dallas 1108
THOMPSON Douglas Eugene 01 Oct. 1887 Lamar 1372


"Probate Obituary Deaths" — Bureau of Vital Statistics
Surname Given Name Death Date County File No.
[blank] [blank] 15 Nov. 1900 Brazos 1
AYALA Trinidad 15 Sep. 1895 [blank] 2
BROOKS Victoria 20 Jun. 1900 Wharton 3
BLUM Andrew 25 Jun. 1896 Bell [“] 4
BLUM Andrew 25 Jun. 1896 Bell 5
COMER Lon 19 Jan. 1878 Hardeman 6
CAIN Julian Owen 24 Nov. 1898 Wood 7
HAYWOOD Sam Houston 31 Dec. 1900 Grayson 8
KIMBEL Granard Patterson 18 Jan. 1902 Red River 9
PARSYN Augusta 21 Jun. 1901 Bexar 10
ROBERTS Joseph 26 Apr. 1895 El Paso 11
VAN RENSSALAER Robert Schuyler 27 May 1882 Dallas 12
SWINDELL Mary E. __ May 1894 Harris 13
VALA Casme 15 Apr. 1902 Kimble 14

 


"Added Deaths" 1903—1940
Surname Given Name Death Date County File No.
ALLEN [blank] Mr. 15 Dec. 1912 Falls 27315
BAXLEY Infant of Frank 15 Jan. 1911 Hopkins 1389
CUNNINGHAM Infant of Bob 17 Mar. 1909 Navarro 45880
FUGUAY [blank], w/f 10 Jan. 1912 Bell 76
GONZALES Maurine 29 Jan. 1927 Gonzales 1690
HEWETT [blank] 22 Jul. 1919 Dallas 20808
HOTZ [blank], w/m 28 Mar. 1908 De Witt 15447
JOHNSON Izel 16 Jun. 1908 Navarro 45676
LEWIS [blank] m 19 Dec. 1918 Grimes 56234
LEWIS [blank] (Mrs.) 30 Dec. 1926 Tarrant 43400
LORENZO [blank] 27 Jul. 1928 Knox 31539
LYLES [blank] 27 Sep. 1934 Navarro 71606
McWHINNEY [blank] 13 Oct. 1933 Cooke 44728
MARTIN Infant (w/m) 09 Jun. 1909 Collin 13784
MARTIN [blank] (Mrs.) 21 Jan. 1921 Eastland 1031
MARTIN [blank] (m) 03 Sep. 1912 Harris 21743
MARTINEZ Infant (m) 06 Sep. 1940 Bexar 40407
MARTINEZ [blank] (m) 25 Mar. 1906 El Paso 19354
MARTINEZ [blank] 02 Oct. 1919 Tom Green 30797
MITCHELL Infant of John 21 Feb. 1918 Shelby 9220
MORGAN [blank] 10 May 1932 Cass 20187
MUELLER [blank] 08 Apr. 1908 DeWitt 45711
NEEL Infant of William 07 Aug. 1913 Dallas 17097
NINO E. 27 Jan. 1917 Eastland 1075
ONTIVERA Ant 06 Jun. 1903 Bexar 1446
OBRYAN [blank] (Mrs.) 17 Aug. 1936 Bowie 39293
O’BRYAN [blank] 13 Apr. 1912 Lubbock 10909
O’NEAL Infant 01 Sep. 1931 Red River 44310
PARISH Infant of J. F. 04 Feb. 1918 Shelby 9221
PETTY Infant of George 24 Sep. 1909 Navarro 45833
PLEU [blank] __ May 1908 Lampasas 39788
QUEEN James C. 4 May 1930 Harris 24167
RODERIQUEZ [blank] 03 Mar. 1909 Terrell 56117
RODRIQUEZ Infant 04 Jun. 1931 Bexar 27049
RODRIQUEZ [blank] 26 Jun. 1922 Maverick 18201
RODRIQUEZ [blank] 24 Apr. 1912 Uvalde 11577
ROLLINS [blank] 21 Jul. 1907 Collin 13650
ROY Nancy 11 Aug. 1919 Dallas 23607
RUSSELL Infant 27 Oct. 1938 Bexar 44138
SMITH Infant 20 Jun. 1904 Bandera 572
SMITH [blank] 11 Jun. 1936 Bandera 28714
SMITH Infant (w/f) 03 Jan. 1904 Bastrop 986
SMITH Infant 17 Mar. 1908 Bastrop 1342
SMITH White (Mrs.) 10 Feb. 1908 Bexar 6774
SMITH Infant 30 May 1909 Bexar 8312
SMITH Infant (w) 08 May 1911 Bowie 10100
SMITH Infant (w/m) 28 Dec. 1908 Brown 9500
SMITH [blank] 27 Dec. 1918 Childress 54557
SMITH Infant 04 Jul. 1907 Collin 13678
SMITH Infant (w/f) 03 Jan. 1909 Comanche 14742
SMITH Infant 26 Mar. 1911 Comanche 5256
SMITH Infant 01 Jun. 1914 Comanche 11806
SMITH [blank] 10 May 1938 Dallas 22204
SMITH Infant 09 Jan. 1911 Dallas 566
SMITH [blank] 23 Jan. 1914 Denton 677
SMITH Infant (w/m) 12 Jan. 1904 De Witt 15132
SMITH [blank] (f) 08 Jul. 1904 De Witt 15025
SMITH [blank] (m/b, "about 85") 14 Mar. 1910 De Witt 20669
SMITH Infant 06 Feb. 1920 Ellis 5427
SMITH Infant 25 Jan. 1910 Ellis 20667
SMITH Infant (w/f) 19 Apr. 1904 Erath 24792
SMITH Infant (w/m) 25 Dec. 1904 Erath 21843
SMITH [blank] 09 Oct. 1915 Falls 21843
SMITH Infant (b/f) 25 Dec. 1904 Falls 26080
SMITH Infant 10 Jul. 1905 Fannin 27872
SMITH Infant (m) 12 Feb 1910 Gaines 20665
SMITH [blank] (Mr.) 26 Feb. 1924 Hardeman 5146
SMITH [blank] 22 Feb. 1920 Hood 6588
SMITH [blank] 26 Sep. 1915 Jefferson 20216
SMITH Infant (w/m) 07 Jul. 1909 Kaufman 39078
SMITH [blank] (Mrs.) 22 Feb. 1909 Kaufman 37760
SMITH Infant 07 Dec. 1909 Knox 39538
SMITH [blank] (w/f, age 84) 01 Aug. 1904 Lavaca 40089
SMITH [blank] (male) 07 Mar. 1926 Lavaca 11097
SMITH Infant (w/f) 11 Aug. 1905 Navarro 44903
SMITH [blank] (Mrs.) __ Mar. 1910 Orange 20664
SMITH Infant (w/m) 14 Nov. 1907 Palo Pinto 46690
SMITH [blank] (b/m) 29 Sep. 1907 Polk 47239
SMITH [Twins] 27 Aug. 1907 Rains 47507
SMITH [blank] (m, age 2) 07 Jul. 1910 Red River 20663
SMITH [blank] (m, age 2) 24 Jun. 1910 Red River 20666
SMITH [blank] 10 Jul. 1903 Red River 47808
SMITH Infant (b/m) 15 Mar. 1909 Smith 51856
SMITH [blank] (w/m) 15 Mar. 1909 Smith 51856
SMITH [blank] (w/m) __ Jun. 1906 Tarrant 54347
SMITH [Twins] (w/m) 09 Apr. 1904 Tarrant 53413
SMITH Infant 24 Feb. 1906 Tarrant 54321
SMITH Infant (w/m) 10 Oct. 1904 Tarrant 53414
SMITH Infant 11 Mar. 1905 Tarrant 53834
SMITH [blank] (Mr.) 19 Dec. 1926 Titus 43459
SMITH [blank] (Mrs.) 19 Jan. 1915 Uvalde 2151
SMITH Infant (f) 01 Jul. 1909 Washington 60505
SMITH Infant (w/f) 29 Sep. 1910 Wichita 20668
SMITH [blank] 05 Feb. 1914 Wise 4560
SMITH Infant (f) 20 Feb. 1906 Wise 61384
SMITH Infant (f) 30 Jul. 1903 Wise 60793
SEAY Spohn Nora 08 Jan. 1917 Dallas 809
TAYLOR Infant of Henry 23 Sep. 1910 Fannin 10017
TURNER Infant of Jesse 09 Sep. 1905 Smith 51253
UHER [blank] (Mrs.) 26 Jul. 1905 Brazos 8903
UMLAND J. C. 28 Nov. 1904 Waller 59539
UNDERWOOD Dayton 01 Oct. 1928 Mason 44776
UNDERWOOD Dina 01 Jun. 1908 Erath 25622
UNDERWOOD Emma 24 Jan. 1928 Llano 3239
UNDERWOOD G. M. 18 Sep. 1919 Travis 28099
UNDERWOOD Mose 09 May 1913 Kaufman 11296
UNSELL Frances Jane (Mrs.) 04 May 1929 Baylor 23581
URBAN Helane 14 Apr. 1926 Lee 15166
URBAN John 29 Aug. 1915 McLennan 18322
URBINA Ramon 15 Mar. 1913 Kaufman 11296
URISS Infant of Soilo 08 Sep. 1929 Upton 46835
URQUHART H. (Mrs.) 02 May 1912 Tarrant 13912
WATKINS Infant of Jeff 17 Jul. 1912 Galveston 17564
WEST Infant (w/m) 10 Apr. 1905 Smith 51282
WHITE Infant of Riley 15 Aug. 1915 McLennan 18292
WILLIAMS Infant of Mary 25 Jan. 1928 Coryell 999
WOODS Infant of Henry 05 Mar. 1925 Bexar 8787
YORK Infant of S. A. 18 Dec. 1908 Navarro 45828
YSIDRA [blank] 03 Mar. 1921 El Paso 7340