We had a call in today about finding a Death Record for somebody who died in Marion County in 1893.  It turns out that Death Records were not systematically kept by the State of Oregon prior to 1903.  The following is information from LArC Volunteer Sue Masse, reguarding the ins and outs of locating Vital Records in Oregon and alternative sources of similar information.

Death Records:
Death records were not required by the state until 1903. Portland required death certificates (and “certificates of removal” to return a body to the county for burial) from 1881-1917. Some counties kept very poor records at first. Death records are restricted for the first 50 years after the person’s death.

If the date of death is more than 50 years ago, death certificates are available from the Oregon State Archives. If you go to the archives you will need the name of the person and date and county of death. There is an index on microfilm at the Oregon State Library and the Archives, but it is difficult to use. Ancestry.com also has the records indexed at http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5254
If you do not have an ancestry.com subscription, you will only get the deceased’s name, death year and county, but this will probably be enough to find the certificate. Photocopies are 25¢ each. If you have the Archives make the photocopy and mail or email it to you, the charge is $5.00.

Portland death records (1881-1917) are available from the Genealogy Forum of Oregon (gfo.org), and there is an excellent free index on their site. GFO will do look-ups and provide photocopies of these records for a fee (https://gfo.org/resources/look-up-services.html).

Death records less than 50 years old must be ordered from the State of Oregon. The easiest way to do this is is through VitalChek. Cost is about $35 per certificate.  If you only know the approximate date of death, an extended search will be performed for an additional $5 fee. Follow the directions at https://www.vitalchek.com/home.aspx. You will need to state the reason you are requesting the certificate, and your relationship to the deceased.

Other places to find death information:
Probate files: Use the state archives web site (https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/Pages/records.aspx) to see if the records you need are at the archives in Salem (http://genealogy.state.or.us/) or if they are still held by the county (https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/records/county/Pages/default.aspx). Remember that counties changed boundaries over time. In 1843 Clackamas County covered portions of four present-day states and one Canadian province.

Cemetery Records: Some are online at USGenweb sites, and some, like Marion County’s Salem Pioneer Cemetery, have their own website. Remember that there is no guarantee that what is written on a stone is correct. The stone carver may have gotten the information wrong or made a typo. Always check with the cemetery to see if additional written records are available. You will also want to check sites such as “Find-a-Grave,” “Interment.net,” or “The Political Graveyard.”

Church records: If the deceased were a member of a religious organization, there may be records about his/her death and burial.

Family History Library   The LDS library in Salt Lake City has an enormous collection of microfilmed records. Many of these records are available at local family history centers.

Birth Records
Oregon first required birth certificates in 1903. Compliance was spotty for the first few years. Birth certificates are restricted for 100 years after the date of birth. If you are ordering for genealogy reasons, you may receive a copy that is stamped “NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES.” You may be asked to explain your relationship to the person, and/or submit documents such as a copy of the death certificate. You will need to send a least one type of photo ID with your request. You can order these through Vital-Chek ( https://www.vitalchek.com/home.aspx).

The City of Portland required birth certificates beginning in 1881. These birth certificates are indexed at the archives web site (http://genealogy.state.or.us/index.php). They can be found at the archives in Salem, or ordered through the archives just as death certificates are.

Delayed Birth certificates were issued to many people born prior to 1903 after Social Security laws were enacted. These records and the index can also be found on the archives web site, and records viewed at or ordered from the archives.

Other places to find birth information:

Death certificates usually note some birth information; however, the informant on a death certificate may have incorrect information or no information.

Probate files, especially from close relatives, may mention birthdays. Look for files of spouses, parents and in-laws who predeceased the person you are searching. If the person of interest had children, the file may note those children and their birth dates, giving you a place to begin your search.

Marriage information, including, licenses, bonds and affidavits may tell you how old the person was at the time of their marriage, and/or who their parents were.

Contact Information:

Oregon State Archives  
Reference Desk reference.archives@state.or.us      
800 Summer St. NE       
Salem  OR 97301     
503-373-0701       
Fax: 503-378-4118     

Oregon State Library  
Reference Desk reference.archives@state.or.us      
250 Winter St SE
Salem  OR 97301     
503-378-4243
Fax: 503-585-8059

Willamette Valley Genealogical Society
P. O. Box 2083
Salem, OR 97308-2083

WVGS is physically located at the state library and has volunteers on duty in the library to assist patrons.
Oregon State Library Reference Room
Genealogy Volunteer Phone:
(503) 378-5708