As many genealogists can tell you, death certificate research is relatively modern. You can only go back so far and then it seems the paper trail just ends. It may be a surprise to you, but the death certificate is centuries younger than even census records.
The most important year for death certificates is 1837. This is the year the authorities first began issuing death certificates. Unfortunately, it was only in England, at this time. It would take years before the practice gained popularity elsewhere.
The death certificate became a state practice a few decades later. By 1874, a doctor’s license or certificate was required to obtain a formal death certificate. This year brought another change, as well. People could no longer obtain a death certificate without listing a cause of death. Of course, this did not stop people from using the phrase “unknown.”
Stillborn infants also had their own regulations. Prior to 1874, death certificates weren’t need or issued for stillborn infants. Registration of stillborns wouldn’t be required until 1927. What’s even more unfortunate is that stillborn infants couldn’t be named on death certificates before 1983.
The first organized effort to keep up with vital records came together in December of 1908. Ohio created the “Bureau of Vital Statistics.” This entity is still used today and every state has a respective branch.