The Federal Mortality Schedule records deaths that occurred during the year that precedes the census. Because death records were not required until the late 1800’s, a mortality schedule can be the only death record available. In some cases it may be the only record of a person’s existence. This information was collected in the censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1885.
Researching Death Records
Frequently overlooked by family historians, mortality schedules comprise a particularly interesting group of records. While deaths are under-reported, the mortality schedules remain an invaluable source of information. By using these schedules to document death dates and family members, it is possible to follow up with focused searches in obituaries, mortuary records, cemeteries, and probate records.
Family Medical History
Mortality schedules are useful for tracing and documenting genetic symptoms and diseases, filling in the gaps of important family medical history. This information can be helpful to family members today.
Cultures not Otherwise Tracked
The Federal Mortality Schedules can also be used to find information about ancestors who were not normally included in the census. For example, they can be used to verify and document African American, Chinese, and Native American ancestry. Unfortunately, African Americans are often not included, especially if they were slaves.
Information Provided in Mortality Schedules
Mortality schedules asked for the following information about the deceased:
- color (white, black, mulatto)
- whether widowed
- place of birth (state, territory, or country)
- month in which the death occurred
- disease or cause of death
- number of days ill.
In 1870, parents’ birthplaces were added. In 1880, the place where a disease was contracted and how long the deceased person was a citizen or resident of the area were included (fractions mean months when less than one year).
For more helpful information about mortality schedules, visit the following resources:
- Search U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules, 1850-1885 (search.ancestry.com)
- Search U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules Index (search.ancestry.com)