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How to Find a Death Record in Massachusetts?

What Are Death Records in Massachusetts?

A Massachusetts death record is a legal document serving as proof of death in the state. Typically, it provides details about the injury or disease responsible for the deceased’s death, (i.e. the cause of death), and explanations as to the circumstances surrounding the cause of death, (i.e. the manner of death).

Some common details that may be found in a death record include:

  • The deceased’s full name
  • The date of death
  • The cause of death
  • The manner of death
  • The place of death
  • The deceased’s gender
  • The deceased’s social security number
  • Previous occupation of the deceased
  • The deceased’s address
  • Name of surviving spouse in any

Massachusetts death records serve several legal, administrative, and record-keeping purposes. Aside from the primary purpose of providing the deceased’s relatives with a cause of death, certified death records are usually required to arrange burial or cremation services, notify social security, settle the deceased’s estate, and claim pension, insurance, and death benefits.

In addition, the mortality data documented from death certificates are also used to establish public health policies, monitor disease trends, and disburse health funding.

How are Death Records Created in Massachusetts?

After a person has been pronounced dead by an attending physician, registered nurse, a practitioner, or a physician assistant, the funeral director coordinates the process of registering the Certificate of Death. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (RVRS) collates all death records in the state through the web-oriented Vitals Information Partnership (VIP).

The registration process usually involves the input of the state and local government, funeral homes, medical staff, and sometimes, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The medical certifier first initiates the process of filing the death certificate and has the primary responsibility of certifying and documenting the deceased’s cause(s) of death. This process is to be carried out within 24 hours from the time of death.

After the medical examiner or certifying physician pronounces a person dead, the funeral home checks the record to certify that the medical certifier did indeed complete their section in the death record. Medical certifiers may certify deaths either by paper-based attestation or online.

The funeral director together with the Local Board of Health in the place where the death occurred then completes the deceased’s personal data. This is necessary so that a burial permit can be obtained before the disposition of the deceased. The funeral home then goes on to complete the online processing of the death record, provided they have an online account to do so. A funeral home without an online account may use the account of any other Massachusetts funeral home that has one.

The local board of health or its agent acting in its place collects the completed death record from the funeral director, reviews it, releases a burial permit, and dispatches the record to the city/town clerk for registration.

Upon receiving the death record from the local board of health, the city/town clerk examines the record to identify omissions or errors. If there is none, the record is accepted and recorded in the official records of the community.

How to Find Death Records Online in Massachusetts

Massachusetts does not provide a central online repository where death records can be accessed. However, the state makes provisions for those interested in ordering copies of death records online.

The State Archives serves as a repository for all death records filed between 1841 and 1920. Interested persons may search for available death records through the Massachusetts State Archives website.

Usually, the details provided in these records are the deceased’s name, the deceased’s date of birth and death, occupation, names of parents, and previous place of residence. In addition, records of deaths that occurred between 1903 and 1920 also include the place of burial information in the records.

Online public libraries and genealogical societies are also great places to search for online death information, as most of them keep an internet database of compiled vital records and genealogical resources. Boston library, for example, provides an online search platform for anyone interested in accessing death information in the state.

Death records are considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.

How to Find Death Records for Free in Massachusetts

Generally, copies of death certificates in Massachusetts have to be paid for through the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (RVRS). However, requesters can access death information for free through historical societies, public libraries, genealogical societies, gravestone collections, newspapers, Massachusetts church records, etc.

Also, the American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society offers requesters the opportunity to access death information for free from several records available online.

Where Can I Get Death Records in Massachusetts?

There are several ways through which a person can obtain a death record in Massachusetts, although the means used depends on the period of the death record being requested.

Records of deaths from before 1841 are available in the Clerk’s Office in the towns or cities where the deaths occurred. Death records from before 1850 are available on request at many libraries, including the Massachusetts State Library.

Death records from between 1841 and 1925 are maintained at the Massachusetts Archives. Hence, anyone interested in a copy can order the death record through the Massachusetts State Archives website. The Massachusetts State Archives can be queried in person, by email, or by mail. Applicants are required to complete the Application for Certified Vital Records Order Form and email it to the State Archive at archives@sec.state.ma.us. They can also print and mail the request form using the address below:

Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125

In applying for a death certificate, a requester is required to fill in the date of death. If the date of death is not known, the applicant may provide a ten-year range to search. The page number of the record and volume are also to be provided in the form for ease of search. However, It can be left blank if it happens to be unavailable. For each certificate requested, a separate money order or check must be provided.

Finally, applicants can order copies of certified death records through the Registry. The Registry of Vital Records and Statistics has served as a repository for Massachusetts death records since 1926. This can be done by:

  • In-person request
  • Mail request

In-person request

Applicants can visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics and order for death records in person at the Registry counter. Office hours for in-person requests are from Monday to Friday, between the hours of 8:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Payments are to be made by check or money order, as the Registry has placed a ban on cash.

Before requesting a Massachusetts death record, an applicant will need to provide the date of death, the deceased’s name, the place of death, and a valid means of identification.

Mail Request

Parties may also order death certificates from the state’s Vital Records Office via mail. A requester applying via mail will be required to download, fill, and submit the Vital Records Mail Order Form, along with the applicable fees, proof of identification, and a stamped, self-addressed, business-letter-sized envelope to the address below:

Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mount Vernon Street
1st Floor
Dorchester, MA 02125

Can Anyone Get a Copy of a Death Certificate in Massachusetts?

Death certificates in Massachusetts are public records; hence they are available on request to anyone who requires a copy.

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Massachusetts?

The Fees For Vital Records Service guide spells out the fees that accrue to ordering death records in Massachusetts. For mail requests to the Registry, the fee to conduct a ten-year search for a Massachusetts death certificate costs $32. This includes one certified copy of the death record or an official statement declaring that the record is not on file i.e a Negative Statement. Mail orders requesting expedited service costs $42. If the request is made in person, the applicant will pay a fee of $20 instead.

For requests routed through the State Archives, applicants will be required to pay $3 for each copy of a certified death record requested. Applicants may only order five copies per order. Search fees for records that were not found in the State Archives will be refunded.

All cash, checks, and money orders for death records requests are to be made payable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Death Certificate in Massachusetts?

It takes approximately two weeks for the processing of orders routed through the State Archives. Online requests routed through the Vital Records Office of the state are usually processed in 7 - 10 business days. However, applicants can request expedited delivery to receive next day/ overnight service.

Mail orders usually take about 30 days from the day the order was made to be processed. However, applicants can expedite the process to 7 - 10 business days. The envelope must be addressed to the attention of “Expedited Mail Service” to expedite the delivery time.

How Long to Keep Records After Death

Generally, the deceased’s paperwork and documents should not be tampered with until at least three years after the year of death. This includes the deceased’s financial documents, medical reports and documents, legal records, and miscellaneous documents.

On the other hand, the vital records and documents containing the deceased’s medical information should be held for at least 10 - 12 years after the death and should be replaced immediately if misplaced within that time frame.

How to Expunge Death Records in Massachusetts

An expungement order is an order given by a judge or the court allowing for a person's criminal record to be sealed, destroyed, and taken off the book. Death records do not fall under the category of records that can be expunged in Massachusetts.

How to Seal Death Records in Massachusetts

Likewise, death records are not sealable in Massachusetts. Other vital records, such as pre-adoption birth records can, however, be sealed. Sealed records in the state are unavailable to the general public and are only accessible to those given authorization.

How to Unseal Death Records in Massachusetts

There are no legal provisions for the sealing or unsealing of death records in the State of Massachusetts. Hence, death records present in the state can neither be sealed nor unsealed.