Kentucky did not maintain death records at the state level until 1911, but earlier records kept by municipalities can sometimes solve riddles for genealogists and other researchers. In the case of Bowling Green and Warren County, WKU’s Special Collections Library holds a unique collection of almost 3,500 “Return of a Death” certificates dating from 1877 to 1913.
Submitted to the city clerk in order to obtain a permit for burial within the city of Bowling Green, the Return of a Death certificate was filled in by both an attending physician and undertaker. Although many certificates are not complete in all respects, they offer information about the deceased including: date and cause of death, age, race, birthplace, residence, place of interment, and parents’ names (if the deceased was a minor). If the death occurred elsewhere and the remains were sent back to Bowling Green for burial, additional documentation from the place of death is frequently present.
Besides supplying genealogical data that might not otherwise be accessible, these death certificates provide a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking glimpse at the types of disease and injury that afflicted local citizens and the frequency of child mortality in families during the late nineteenth century.
A complete alphabetical listing of Bowling Green, Kentucky death records (1877-1913) in the collection can be downloaded by clicking here. For further information (including how to receive a copy of an individual death record), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.