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Politics & Government

More than 2.5 million Michigan death certificates now available online

Archives of Michigan

The Archives of Michigan has added to its free online collection of death certificates. 

A new batch covering the years 1921 to 1939 have joined certificates from 1897 to 1920 that were already available online.

State Archivist Mark Harvey says the indexed certificates are a treasure trove for historical researchers who can search four different data fields.

"You could narrow the search to 1918 in Ann Arbor and scroll through and see how many people had influenza as the cause of death," said Harvey.

The most frequent users of the online collection are people tracing family history, according to Harvey. "I didn't think until today to actually look for myself and found my great grandfather in there and learned he actually was born in Canada and his parents were from England," Harvey said.

Harvey said you can also find the death certificates of notable people like James Vernor of ginger ale fame, and illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini.

Houdini died in Detroit on October 31, 1926 after being punched in the stomach by a fan at a Montreal show a few days earlier. The certificate "showed that (Houdini) had a pre-existing condition of appendicitis," said Harvey. "So that, combined with getting hit and not having immediate medical attention is what caused his death."

Harvey said the index of death certificates from 1940 to 1952 will be available in about a month. And the images of the certificates will go online year by year.  State privacy restrictions prohibit the image of a death certificate from going online until 75 years after a person's death.