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How to Find a Death Record in Texas?
What Are Death Records in Texas?
Death records refer to official documents that contain information about a deceased’s death, such as the location, date, and circumstances surrounding the incident, as registered at the point of death or within the period prescribed by state law. In Texas, the funeral director is responsible for registering deaths, generating death records, and transferring them to the state-assigned custodian charged with preserving the records and issuing them to authorized persons. Like other Texas Vital Records, these records are maintained by the state vital records office. Some information in a Texas death record includes:
- Deceased’s full name, including first name, middle name, last name, and alias (if any)
- Place of birth and death
- Date of birth and death, including age
- Deceased’s biodata, including color or race, sex, etc.
- Decedent's social security number
- Usual residence before death
- State file number
- The local registrar
- Usual occupation and business or industry
- Marital status
- Birth parents' names
- Spousal information
- Informant’s information
- Cause of death
Death records establish precedence for health-related financing, epidemiological research, and public health interventions for genealogical research. They are also useful when settling pension claims, determining insurance pension benefits, transferring real and personal property titles, applying for probate or administration of a deceased’s estate, closing bank accounts, surveilling death trends, and providing end-result data for research studies. In addition, government agencies use official death records to update electoral registers, government benefits paid, passport records, etc.
How are Death Records Created in Texas?
The Handbook on Death Registration provides details on creating death records in Texas. According to the Health and Safety Code HSC 193.003, when a death occurs, a Certificate of Death must be filed not more than 10 days from the date of death. All information pertaining to the death must be filed with the local registrar in the district where the death happened, or the body was found. Registering a death requires a collaborative effort of the following persons:
- The funeral director or the person taking up the responsibility of disposing the body;
- The informant who provides personal, nonmedical details about the deceased;
- The certifier of the cause of death, which may be the medical practitioner that attended the deceased; and
- The medical examiner, or the Justice of the Peace, depending on the events of the death.
A Texas death record is created in three steps:
Obtaining a Certificate of Death and Completing it with the Required Information
The funeral director or the person taking up the responsibility of disposing of the body is charged with the responsibility of obtaining the certificate of death and completing it. However, suppose the body is donated to a medical school, hospital, or mortuary school for educational or scientific purposes. In that case, the institution will be responsible for completing and filing the Certificate of Death. During the process of completing the certificate, the funeral director gets all the necessary personal and demographic information from the informant before moving on to determine and record the cause of death.
Determining and Recording the Cause of Death
Here, the funeral director notifies the medical examiner or Justice of the Peace to determine and record the cause of death. The events surrounding the death determines who may certify the cause and manner of death. The person completing the medical certification must attest to the inquest’s validity after concluding it and submit it within five days from the date the death certificate is received. The medical certification must be submitted using an electronic process approved by the state registrar. If the deceased’s identity is not known, the person conducting the investigation shall obtain and forward to the Department of Public Safety:
- The deceased’s fingerprints;
- Information concerning the deceased’s hair color, eye color, height, weight, deformities, and tattoo marks; and
- Other facts required for identifying the deceased.
Suppose, for any reason, the process of medical certification cannot be completed within the required five days. In that case, the person in charge of the process shall notify the funeral director with a reason for the delay. When the autopsy results or any other information that would alter the medical certification information on the death certificate is received, the medical certifier must immediately report the change to modify the death certificate.
Filing with the Local Registrar
After all the necessary information has been completed in the Texas death certificate, the funeral director or person taking up this responsibility must file the death certificate with the local registrar in the district where the death occurred. The death certificate must be filed electronically, using the Texas Electronic Death Registration as specified by the state registrar within 10 calendar days after the death.
Are Death Certificates Public in Texas?
No. In Texas, death certificates are confidential records. Access to Texas death certificates is restricted for 25 years from the death date. Only eligible persons, such as an immediate family member, the family member's legal guardian, or a legal representative with proper documentation, can perform death record searches through the public health statistics offices (also called vital records offices) to obtain such certificates. Immediate family members include the decedent's spouse, child, grandparent, birth parent/legal guardian, and brother/sister.
Any other person who wishes to obtain a Texas death certificate must submit legal documentation establishing a direct, tangible interest in the record. For example, a court order or an insurance policy.
How to Find Death Records Online in Texas?
Texas Department of State Health Services - Vital Statistics Section, the state public health statistics office responsible for maintaining birth, death, marriage, and divorce records, does not maintain a central online registry where state residents may perform death record searches in Texas. A death record may only be accessed through an in-person, mail-in, or online order.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
Death Record Search By Name in Texas
Texas death records less than 25 years from the date of death are confidential records that can only be acquired when all statutory requirements (eligibility, valid identification, payment, etc.) are met. However, the public has access to death records older than 25 years.
One way to obtain an open Texas death record is to search a state or local registrar's death record index (also known as a database of all deaths in a particular region). This index may be accessed online on a registrar's website or onsite at a registrar's office. For instance, the local registrars (county/city clerks) in Harris County, El Paso County, and the City of San Antonio offer online death indexes to the public. On the other hand, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission provides access to death indexes from 1903 to 2010 at their Austin, Texas, location. Note that these indexes do not contain other United States death records.
Usually, an information seeker must provide the decedent's last name, first name, date of death (or range), or a combination of these parameters to search a Texas death record index. In this way, interested persons can perform a death record search by name in Texas.
Parties can also have a local or state registrar perform a death record search by name for them by requesting a death verification letter or death certificate. To furnish the requester with a copy, the registrar will search the records on file based on the data supplied in the application form (which includes the decedent's full name).
Death Record Search by Address
Local and state vital records offices allow the public to conduct death record searches in Texas via vital statistics indexes. However, an individual can typically only perform a death record search by name or date of event—not address—using these indexes. Even so, when requesting a Texas death verification letter or death certificate, Texas registrars do not ask for a full address to search their records, just the place of death (the city/town or county where someone died).
How to Find Death Records for Free in Texas?
An individual can only perform death record searches in Texas through the Texas Department of State Health Services - Vital Statistics Section or a local registrar's office for a fee. According to the Health and Safety Code 191.0045, the vital statistics offices can demand a nonrefundable search fee before providing access to a death record.
Where Can I Get Death Records in Texas?
A requester can obtain a Texas death record at the Texas Department of State Health Services - Vital Statistics Section, the state office that disseminates birth, death, marriage, and divorce records. However, the Department maintains only death records of persons that died from 1903 to the present date in Texas. Individuals must go to the county where the death occurred for earlier records. A requester is required to pay the required fee ($20 and $3 for each additional copy) and provide a valid state-issued verification of identity, such as a state-issued driver’s license or I.D. number and Social Security Number. The following information will also be required to facilitate a death record search in Texas:
- Date of death
- First and last name of decedent listed on record
- Gender of decedent listed on record
- City and county where the death occurred
A death record may be obtained through the following ways:
- Order Online
- By Mail-in Request
- By In-Person Request - Austin Office
- By In-Person Request - Local Offices
To order a death certificate or verification letter online, use the Order Online portal on the Department’s website and provide the required information about the record, acceptable identification, and payment. Online order is the quickest method to process a death record request. It is processed and delivered in 20-25 business days.
By Mail Request
Download and complete the Mail Application for Death Record and send the completed application with a notary seal, any required supporting documentation, and payment for the application to the applicable address. Mail-in orders can be processed with standard or expedited service.
Send the request to this address for regular processing:
Texas Vital Statistics
Department of State Health Services
P.O. Box 12040
Austin, TX 78711-2040
Send the request to this address for expedited processing through an overnight mail service such as UPS, FedEx, or LoneStar:
Texas Vital Statistics
Department of State Health Services
1100 W. 49th Street
Austin, TX 78756
By In-Person Request - Austin Office
Individuals can obtain Texas death records in person (most times, on the same day) at the following address:
1100 West 49th Street
Phone: (888) 963-7111
Fax: (512) 776-7711
Note that the Texas vital records offices do not disseminate other United States death records. To obtain a non-Texas death record, an interested party must contact the state or local office that holds the record. An eligible person can also search United States death records on the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) United States death registry or purchase the National Technical Information Service's Public Death Master File (DMF). The DMF, popularly known as the Social Security Death Index, contains deaths reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) from 1962. This index may be available for free from third-party sites.
By In-Person Request - Local Offices
To access death records maintained at the local offices, contact the specific local office for their hours of operation, fees, and procedures for requests. The Texas Department of State Health Services - Vital Statistics Section provides access to the addresses, websites, and contact details of all local offices in Texas. Note that the local offices only maintain death records for persons that died in their respective counties.
Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Texas?
According to the Health and Safety Code 191.051 and Government Code 552.115 is a confidential record for the initial 25 years following the date of death and may only be accessed by an appropriately qualified applicant. Qualified applicants are immediate family members of the decedent. Suppose the requester is a resident of another state. In that case, a death certificate may be ordered if the requester is the decedent's spouse, birth parent, or the funeral director listed on the record. A qualified applicant is required to verify their identity online by providing a state-issued driver’s license or I.D. number, Social Security Number, and relationship to the individual listed on the record.
On the other hand, a death verification letter is open to anyone interested in obtaining it but cannot be used for official purposes. The verification letter contains the decedent’s name, the date of death, and the county where the death occurred.
How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Texas?
The cost for a death certificate search in Texas depends on the agency that receives the order. For example, the first copy of a death certificate or death verification ordered through the state vital records office costs $20.00, while each additional copy ordered at the same time will attract an extra $3.00 charge. All record requests are delivered by USPS First Class mail at no cost. For expedited return shipping orders, the fee is as follows:
- Expedited processing fee - $5.00
- Shipping within the USA only via overnight mail - $8.00
- USPS Express Mail (shipping overnight to P.O. Box only) - $22.95
On the other hand, a person performing a Texas death certificate search through a local vital statistics office may pay less or more than the above dollar amounts, depending on the office's fee policy.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Texas?
The duration for any death certificate search in Texas is determined by the type of order. For an online and expedited mail-in order, the processing time is within 10-15 business days, while it takes between 25 and 30 business days after receipt of a regular mail-in request for it to be processed. The processing time does not include shipping and delivery time. Visit the Processing Times portal for regular updates on the processing times.
How Long to Keep Records After Death
There are no statutes specifying how long a death record should be kept after a person’s death. Despite that, the IRS statute of limitations for an audit of a tax return is generally within three years, which implies that a deceased’s tax returns may be randomly audited for the next three years after death. The deceased’s death record is required to facilitate this process. However, it is better to keep all financial records for at least seven years after the death. A death certificate may be retained in possession for as long as possible because it is regarded as evidence of the death date and is used for official purposes.
How to Expunge Your Death Records in Texas?
Expungement is an official order that permits the complete deletion of specific information or records of a particular event. Expungement helps remove certain information that the record subject desires to keep away from the public. There are no provisions for the expungement of death records in Texas.
How to Seal Your Death Records in Texas?
Generally, death records are automatically sealed from public access for the first 25 years after the death date, but these records will become public after 25 years. There are no provisions for sealing a death record in Texas.
How to Unseal Your Death Records in Texas?
There are no laws in Texas that indicate that death records may be unsealed in the state. During the first 25 years after the death date, when the record is sealed, it is only accessible to adequately qualified persons.
How to Use the Texas Death Registry
The Texas Death Registry is a digital index maintained by the Vital Statistics Section (VSS) of the Texas Department of State Health Services. This registry—arranged chronologically by event year and then alphabetically by registrants' surnames—contains the full names (or initials), dates of death, counties of death, and genders of persons who died in Texas.
Provided in .csv format, the Texas death index is accessible by completing the DSHS Digital Vital Event Index Form and submitting it via email to email@example.com. The DSHS charges a $10 fee for each year searched to provide death indexes for 1965 and later. The department also has microfiche indexes for earlier years beginning from 1903. However, the fee payable depends on the requested year.
Texas death indexes are also available in the Reference Reading Room of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. However, the library's latest index year for such public health statistics is 2010.
Note: Texas death registries are not the same as Texas death notices. As mentioned, the former is an alphabetical list of Texas decedents. Whereas the latter is a short notice put in a newspaper by family or friends to announce a loved one's death.
Individuals who wish to search the death registry of another U.S. state can either contact that state's vital records office or see if they qualify to search a United States death index. For example, the NCHS maintains a United States death registry of all deaths recorded in the United States. However, this database is only accessible to researchers. Additional information about accessing the NCHS United States death registry is available on the CDC's National Death Index site.
How to Find an Obituary for a Specific Person in Texas
The key to finding obituaries in Texas is to have a few details about the person who died, such as the deceased's full name, location of death (city or county), date of death, and date of birth. With this information, an individual can perform a Texas obituary search on the internet to locate the digitized records of local or rural newspapers. If the particular newspaper that printed the obituary is known, the inquirer can reach out to the paper directly to search for the record. (Note that a search fee may apply.)
Another option for conducting a Texas obituary search is to contact or visit a local public library. Many Texas public libraries (for example, the Keach Family Library in Nueces County) preserve microfilms of local newspapers over a range of years, or which go back to the earliest publication date. These libraries may also provide obituary indexes online for public examination. One example is the Taylor Public Library in the City of Taylor, Texas.
How to Conduct a Free Obituary Search in Texas
One of the more common places to conduct a free obituary search in Texas is a public library. Public libraries in Texas maintain newspaper archives that interested persons can request during working hours or by searching the library's online obituary index (if any is provided).
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission provides a Find A Library tool that interested individuals can use to locate local libraries in Texas. The state library also has a sizable collection of Texas newspapers that the public can access for Texas obituary searches.
Generally, before starting a Texas obituary search, an individual is advised to possess some information about the deceased. Most often, this is the decedent's full name, county of death, county of residence, and the event year. This allows the researcher to narrow their search field and pinpoint the library to contact. A researcher who knows at least the name of the deceased can also perform a general internet search or search a free obituary finder site to find obituary information. Better yet, if the newspaper that published the obituary is known, the requester can contact the paper or check the establishment's website for a free obituary lookup tool.
What are Texas Death Notices?
Texas death notices are paid (or classified) advertisements that families or friends leave in newspapers or publications to disclose a death. Such notices may reveal the following:
- Minor biographical information (the decedent's name, age at death, relationship to survivors)
- Date and location of death
- Cause of death
- Names of predeceased and surviving family members
- Details about the burial or memorial service
- Memorial or charity donation information
What is the Difference Between Death Notices and Obituaries?
Compared to obituaries, death notices are shorter pronouncements of deaths. These notices only serve to inform the public of a person's death and other pertinent death information, like the time and date of a funeral service or where to send flowers or donations. Meanwhile, obituaries are news articles written by news reporters that contain a decedent's detailed biographical information. These tend to be longer pieces than death notices.