Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A death index is listing of deaths within a given area, often compiled from original source records. A death index, even though it may be compiled from the original, is considered a derivative source, as it is not a verbatim copy of the original record. A margin of error exists in every compiled record, through the process of transcription. The index may be compiled by those having stewardship over the original record or they may be compiled by others interested in providing a reference to the source and making it available to a wider audience. Privacy laws may limit access to certain records and indexes (or indices).
Death, birth, and marriage indexes play an important role in genealogy. Access to indexes help researchers locate ancestors or other family members in far distant places and may confirm an event took place. Indexes may also help to confirm the name, date, and place of an event. As noted, however, indexes can be wrong, and ideally should be used to guide the researcher to the original record. Indexes may also contain omissions; that is, records may be missing from an index that actually do exist. In some cases, multiple versions or editions of an index are available and information may exist in one that is not available in another. Local libraries and archives often house death indexes for their state and local area. Many death indexes are available on the Internet on various genealogy web sites, with or without a fee.