Mortality Schedules

By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist

Mortality schedules can be very interesting. I worked mostly in the South and saw disease listed as the cause of many deaths. When I began checking mortality in the western states I was a little taken aback by the number of times a bullet wound was listed as cause of death. No wonder they called it the Wild West!

Mortality schedules were made in conjunction with some of the federal census records. Individuals who died in the twelve months before the census date (usually June 1) were enumerated. The information you will find in a mortality schedule is usually the name of deceased, month and cause of death, age, sex, color, marital status and birthplace. The later schedules record parents, birthplace and how long the deceased had resided in the county of his/her death.

The first mortality schedule was taken in 1850 and continued until 1900; however the 1890 schedule was destroyed by fire and the 1900 schedule was destroyed by order of Congress after they had compiled all the statistics. A transcription of the 1900 mortality schedule of Minnesota was discovered at the Minnesota Historical Society and is the only known 1900 mortality schedule in existence for any state. Mortality was also part of the Federal census in 1885 for Colorado, Florida, Nebraska and the territories of South Dakota and New Mexico (see OGF archives "Federal Census Records" article).

Be aware that deaths were under-reported, some believe by as much as 20-40% and that the recorded information, just like any other census, is not always complete or accurate.

Mortality schedules can not only provide you with a death date, but can give you valuable information about the health trends in your family history. When an unusual cause of death is listed it may lead you into other records, such as court records etc.

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