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  #1  
Old 06-10-2009, 01:28 PM
DudleyGarrett DudleyGarrett is offline
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How do you find out HOW someone died?

I was reading the obituaries in today's paper and I noticed a death notice of an older brother of a former friend. He was only 38. I'm curious to know how it happened, but don't even feel close to comfortable enough to contact the person or the family. Perhaps it's morbid curiosity, I don't know.

Does anyone know of any legal ways to find out?

Amoral techniques are okay, but I'm looking for the easiest way (no hoop jumping).
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  #2  
Old 06-10-2009, 02:19 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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I'd start with Google. There could be other news reports. Family members may have posted the news on blogs or forums. Some families put up a sort of memorial web site.

The death certificate itself is available, but you'd have to check with the applicable jurisdictions to find out what the procedure and other requirements are for that.
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  #3  
Old 06-10-2009, 02:31 PM
Sigmagirl Sigmagirl is offline
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Sometimes the funeral director will tell you. Sometimes not. But you could call and ask politely.
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  #4  
Old 06-10-2009, 02:38 PM
Shawn1767 Shawn1767 is offline
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If the obit says something like "undetermined causes" it's sometimes euphemistically used for "suicide" or "drug overdose."
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  #5  
Old 06-10-2009, 02:50 PM
tim-n-va tim-n-va is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoi View Post
I'd start with Google. There could be other news reports. Family members may have posted the news on blogs or forums. Some families put up a sort of memorial web site.

The death certificate itself is available, but you'd have to check with the applicable jurisdictions to find out what the procedure and other requirements are for that.
Just to support this, I was not allowed (in Tennessee) to get copy of my brother's death certificate. His widow (he had not children) was the only one who could request it. Obvious caveat that the clerk at the courthouse could have just been incompetent and/or wrong.
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  #6  
Old 06-10-2009, 03:08 PM
Mr. Slant Mr.  Slant is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn1767 View Post
If the obit says something like "undetermined causes" it's sometimes euphemistically used for "suicide" or "drug overdose."
Another tip-off is "in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Mental Health Association" or similar.

Example:
http://obituaries.news-record.com/Ne...onId=125253248
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  #7  
Old 06-10-2009, 03:15 PM
Kalhoun Kalhoun is offline
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I thought a death cert was a public record.
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  #8  
Old 06-10-2009, 03:20 PM
KneadToKnow KneadToKnow is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalhoun View Post
I thought a death cert was a public record.
I think it's one of those "public-in-the-aggregate, private-in-the-specifics" things like census records. Probably varies by jurisdiction, too.
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  #9  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:08 PM
Bijou Drains Bijou Drains is offline
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On a related note, after Dale Earnhardt died there was a big move to make autopsy photos not public. The news media fought that hard. I think some states allow you to view the photos in the ME office but you cannot take them out or make copies.
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  #10  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:17 PM
Jodi Jodi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn1767 View Post
If the obit says something like "undetermined causes" it's sometimes euphemistically used for "suicide" or "drug overdose."
Except many papers won't do that if it's not true, and -- big and -- if they know it's not true. (They do tend to take the family's word for cause of death of any non-newsworthy person.) The code for suicide or overdose AFAIK is "died unexpectedly at home."
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  #11  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:24 PM
DudleyGarrett DudleyGarrett is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jodi View Post
Except many papers won't do that if it's not true, and -- big and -- if they know it's not true. (They do tend to take the family's word for cause of death of any non-newsworthy person.) The code for suicide or overdose AFAIK is "died unexpectedly at home."
All the obituary says is "died Wednesday, June 3."

Also, I always took "died unexpectedly at home" to also mean cardiac arrest, accidental fall or other type of accident.
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  #12  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:29 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DudleyGarrett View Post
All the obituary says is "died Wednesday, June 3."

Also, I always took "died unexpectedly at home" to also mean cardiac arrest, accidental fall or other type of accident.
"Died of a brief illness" is also code for cardiac arrest while "died of a long illness" is code for cancer. I'd also suspect suicide for someone that young and no reference to any sort of illness or accident.
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  #13  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:46 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoi View Post
I'd start with Google. There could be other news reports. Family members may have posted the news on blogs or forums. Some families put up a sort of memorial web site.

The death certificate itself is available, but you'd have to check with the applicable jurisdictions to find out what the procedure and other requirements are for that.
There's this recent death of a 38-year-old in Virginia.
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  #14  
Old 06-10-2009, 04:51 PM
Claire Beauchamp Claire Beauchamp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tim-n-va View Post
Just to support this, I was not allowed (in Tennessee) to get copy of my brother's death certificate. His widow (he had not children) was the only one who could request it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalhoun View Post
I thought a death cert was a public record.
It could be that it's public in that anyone should be able to SEE it, but only certain people can obtain a COPY of it.
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  #15  
Old 06-10-2009, 05:01 PM
panache45 panache45 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaboi867 View Post
. . . "died of a long illness" is code for cancer.
Or AIDS.
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  #16  
Old 06-10-2009, 05:07 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Claire Beauchamp View Post
It could be that it's public in that anyone should be able to SEE it, but only certain people can obtain a COPY of it.
I think this is the most correct. I've been big into genealogy for the last few years, and this last year I've been ordering death certificates from a variety of States, each one with their own special rules and restrictions. I believe all States I've contacted allow you to view the certificate in person, but not to copy it unless you meet certain criteria which, of course, vary from State to State. On the "best side" is Missouri, which has a great online search and free download of most death certificates up to the 1950's or so.
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  #17  
Old 06-10-2009, 07:05 PM
Doug Bowe Doug Bowe is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Slant View Post
Another tip-off is "in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Mental Health Association" or similar.

Example:
http://obituaries.news-record.com/Ne...onId=125253248

Likewise, "donations may be made to M.D. Anderson Hospital."

Cancer. It's creative obit reading.
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  #18  
Old 06-10-2009, 07:23 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DudleyGarrett View Post
All the obituary says is "died Wednesday, June 3."
Ah missed that part. The person I linked to died on Saturday, June 6.
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  #19  
Old 06-10-2009, 07:31 PM
Kimmy_Gibbler Kimmy_Gibbler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Claire Beauchamp View Post
It could be that it's public in that anyone should be able to SEE it, but only certain people can obtain a COPY of it.
I don't think it is public at all. I think it is just a record filed with the government, you know, like your tax return.

Actually, a similar question came up a while back concerning death records in the state of Wisconsin. They will be released some fifty or seventy-five years after the date of death. Morbid curiosity is not a FOIA classification yet, I'm afraid.

As far as codes in the obits, if the family really doesn't want the public to know, and I would suppose that would be the usual case, they can just write "A.B., 38, beloved husband of C. and son of D. and E. (nee F.), died Saturday, June 1. He is survived by his wife and parents." They don't have to include any details, encrypted or otherwise.

Finally, if this is the brother of a (former) friend, one traditional way of discovering this information is to tender your condolences to the surviving relative and offer your assistance during this sad time.
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  #20  
Old 06-10-2009, 08:20 PM
anson2995 anson2995 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaboi867 View Post
"Died of a brief illness" is also code for cardiac arrest while "died of a long illness" is code for cancer. I'd also suspect suicide for someone that young and no reference to any sort of illness or accident.
Meh. Most obituaries are written by the family, or by a funeral director on behalf of the family. There's no common authorship from one obit to another within a paper, let alone from paper to paper.
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  #21  
Old 06-10-2009, 08:35 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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Death records used to be public records but over the years, like so many other records, they slowly are losing ground. This varies from state to state. For instance in Illinois death records are not public record and to get one you have to show some sort of "personal right" or "property right" to the deceased.

However there are things like Geneological records, which in Illinois deaths that occured 20 years ago and greater. These will include a death certificate but it won't necessarily list things like cause of death.

Again that is for Illinois.

But then again, it's easy to pretend to be someone your not and get the information.

Last edited by Markxxx; 06-10-2009 at 08:36 PM.. Reason: clarity
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  #22  
Old 06-11-2009, 06:16 AM
Walloon Walloon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
I believe all States I've contacted allow you to view the certificate in person, but not to copy it unless you meet certain criteria which, of course, vary from State to State.
Pennsylvania no viewing unless you're next of kin or have some legal justification. Wisconsin, you can look at it, but unless you're next of kin you can't see the cause of death portion until 20 years have passed.
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  #23  
Old 06-11-2009, 11:48 AM
pkbites pkbites is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimmy_Gibbler View Post
Actually, a similar question came up a while back concerning death records in the state of Wisconsin. They will be released some fifty or seventy-five years after the date of death. Morbid curiosity is not a FOIA classification yet, I'm afraid.
That was my thread. Here anyone can get a death certificate, but not the "extended facts of death" that includes the cause of death. So a a death certificate wouldn't do the OP any good.

My thread was started because I was in the same situation DudleyGarrett was in. I stumbled upon the obituary of someone I used to know who died rather young. I wasn't really close to anyone who knew them, and I didn't want to upset anyone by asking nosy questions. So I just went to the court house to look at the death certificate. This is where I learned I wasn't in a position to see what they died of. And trying to see the "extended facts of death" certificate under pretext is a crime. So I never did find out what my former acquaintance died of.

Last edited by pkbites; 06-11-2009 at 11:49 AM..
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