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Changes to the Process for Requesting Death Certificates
and How They Affect Genealogists

Effective November 1, 2011, the Oklahoma Legislature modified the law concerning the availability of death certificates. Access to these records was limited due to the significant amount of information that is on a death record which can be used to steal a decedent’s identity, thus causing emotional and financial stress to a family, as well as incurring economic costs for society. These records contain legal names of subjects, spouses and parents; maiden name of spouse; SSN of the decedent; addresses; and dates of birth, etc. They may also include sensitive personal health-related information including cause of death. Some causes of death are very personal to the decedent’s families such as suicides, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, etc.

The Oklahoma Legislature made death certificates confidential in the same way that birth certificates have been for many years. That means only those who are working in the subject of the record’s interest are able to obtain a copy of a death record. 

 

63 O.S. Sec. 1-323

A. To protect the integrity of vital statistics records, to insure their proper use, and to insure the efficient and proper administration of the vital statistics system, it shall be unlawful for any person to permit inspection of, or to disclose information contained in, vital statistics records, or to copy or issue a copy of all or part of any such record except to the person who is the subject of the record or in such person's interest unless ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction. Certified copies of birth certificates and death certificates shall be provided without cost and without a court order to the Attorney General or to any district attorney upon request in the course of a criminal investigation.

 

While there is no specific definition of the term "in such person's interest," the OSDH has traditionally interpreted that phrase to mean an individual assisting or working in the subject of the certificate's interest. For death certificates that includes:  funeral director of record; the spouse of the deceased; the parents of the deceased; the heirs of the deceased; the beneficiary of a life insurance policy for the deceased; etc. [The full list is available at http://vr.health.ok.gov.] Family members who can prove relationship to the deceased are also eligible.

What this means for you as a genealogist, will depend on your relationship to the decedent.

  • If you are related to the decedent, then you will need to provide proof of your relationship. This can be done through birth, death, marriage and divorce records; census records; last will and testament; etc.
  • If you are not related to the decedent, then you will need to obtain written permission from a family member to request the record. We will also need a copy of that family member’s ID and proof of their relationship. This can be done using the same types of documents listed above.

Most likely you will have the records which will prove your relationship to the decedent as part of the research you have already done. The documents that can be used are common documents.

We apologize for any added burden you may see this as causing and we are hopeful that other than submitting additional documents as a part of your request, you will not see any effect. We are confident that by working together we can assure that records are only released to appropriate applicants, and that we can prevent families from being victimized further following the loss of a loved one.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact our office by emailing us at AskVR@health.ok.gov.

 

 

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