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Death Records

What Are Death Records in Tennessee?

A Tennessee death record is an official legal document that provides the identity of the deceased, as well as the time, date, location, and cause of the person's death. Along with other Tennessee vital records, death records are generated and maintained by the state's vital records office. It typically includes personal details about the deceased such as:

  • The deceased’s full name
  • The date of death
  • The gender, race, and marital status of the deceased
  • The decedent's social security number
  • The deceased’s birth records, including date and place of birth
  • The place of death
  • The deceased’s address and occupation
  • Names of the decedent’s birth parents, including the maiden name of the mother
  • Burial information
  • Funeral Home
  • Decedent’s spouse

A Tennessee death record is a legal proof of a person’s demise and is admissible as evidence in court proceedings and for any other legal purposes. Death records are also useful in the settlement of pension claims, funeral arrangements, application for insurance benefits, transfer of title of real and personal property, and evaluating public health statistics.

Tennessee death records are the source for state and national mortality statistics. They are used to set public health statistics, goals, and policies and determine what medical conditions receive research and development funding.

How are Death Records Created in Tennessee?

A death record is created in Tennessee when the funeral director or a person acting as the funeral director files a deceased’s death certificate. The funeral director must file the death certificate at the State vital records office within five days of the death.

The Tennessee Office of Vital Records provides an electronic issuance system that allows the online filing of death certificates. The funeral director obtains the deceased's personal information from the next of kin or the best-qualified person available. Additionally, the funeral director must get the medical certification of death from whoever is responsible for medical certification.

It is the responsibility of the attending physician or county medical examiner to complete and sign the death certificate. By Tennessee Code Annotated § 68-3-502, the physician must complete the medical certification of death within 48 hours of death.

In most natural deaths, the treating physician has the responsibility of completing the medical certification of death even if the death occurred outside of healthcare facilities or in the absence of the physician. If the treating physician is absent, the chief medical officer of the institution of death or another physician designated by the treating physician may complete and sign the certificate.

However, if the deceased was not attended to by a physician and the death is not natural, such as in the case of a homicide, suicide, or any violent or suspicious deaths, the medical examiner in the county of death assumes jurisdiction over the death certification. In such cases, the county medical examiner has the responsibility to investigate and certify death records (TCA § 68-3-502-d). The county medical examiner also has jurisdiction over the following types of deaths:

  • Sudden, unexpected deaths of infants and children
  • Deaths resulting from hyperthermia or hypothermia
  • Death of a fetus weighing at least 350 grams or older than 20 weeks due to maternal trauma or acute drug use
  • Deaths of prisoners or those in state custody
  • Deaths resulting from suspected neglect or abuse of residents of long-term care facilities
  • Unidentified human remains

Alternatively, eligible individuals can create death records on the United States death registry, especially when the deceased's state of residence is unknown. When a death record is created, a record seeker can perform a Tennessee death certificate search to retrieve information regarding such records. The United States death records are available on the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS).

Are Death Certificates Public in Tennessee?

Yes. Death certificates in Tennessee are public records, so they are accessible to the general public. However, certain information in Tennessee death certificates can be restricted to specific persons. For instance, the Tennessee Office of Vital Records only provides the cause of death to the decedent's spouse, parents, child, or legal representative. An individual can conduct a Tennessee death certificate search by mail or in person by reviewing the process on the State Vital Records Office or the State Library and Archives websites. A record seeker can also conduct an online public death record search in Tennessee using an online tool provided by a third-party vendor approved by the Office.

How to Find Death Records Online in Tennessee

The State of Tennessee does not provide a central online repository where members of the public may look up Tennessee death records. However, the Tennessee State Library and Archives provides an index of Tennessee death records from 1908 to 1912 and 1914 to1933.

Additionally, the Shelby County Register of Deeds’ website maintains a state-wide index to Tennessee death records for the years 1949 to 2014. Using any of these indexes, interested persons may search death records in Tennessee. Typically, a record seeker can conduct a death record search by name and by address. Any record seeker who cannot find death records using the Tennessee online lookup tool can check the United States National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). The NVSS allows individuals to access the United States death records.

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. Typically, record seekers will not be provided with sensitive information like the decedent’s social security numbers, information regarding the decedent's birth parents, and related death, marriage, and divorce records when they search for death records online.

Death Record Search By Name in Tennessee

A record seeker can conduct a death record search by name in Tennessee by using the online tool provided by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. To use the online tool, one would have to provide the deceased person’s full name, date, and location of death and relationship with the deceased. Note that a death record search by name via the Tennessee State Library and Archives is usually free.

Death Record Search by Address

Interested persons may conduct a death record search by address using the tools provided by the record custodian in the judicial district where the death occurred. The Shelby County Register of Deeds allows a record seeker to conduct a death record search in Tennessee by address using the online tool available on their website. All requesters need to do is input their street addresses in the search box provided on the website. Location-specific death information may also be obtained from the National Center for Vital Statistics.

How to Find Death Records for Free in Tennessee

Generally, there are no such things as free death records in Tennessee. However, the Tennessee Public Records Act (Tennessee Code Annotated §10-7-503), prohibits the custodian of any public record from requesting a fee for the inspection of public records. Nonetheless, if a person wants a copy of the death record after inspection, the custodian may charge the applicant for copying costs and labor associated with providing copies of the record.

Additionally, certain records provide information about a deceased person without requiring payment. This includes Tennessee church records, cemetery records, probate records, newspapers, etc.

Interested persons may also search for free death records filed from 1948 - 1908 on the Tennessee State Library and Archives website. However, anyone seeking to obtain a certified copy of a Tennessee death record at the Tennessee Department of Health Office of Vital Records or a County Health Department will have to pay the required fee.

Where Can I Get Death Records in Tennessee?

Interested persons may obtain death records in Tennessee from the State’s Office of Vital Records. The Office only provides records of deaths that occurred from 1971 to the present. Applicants may visit the Tennessee State Library and Archives to order copies of death records filed between 1848 and 1908. Tennessee death records from the Office of Vital Records are accessible through any of the following ways:

  • In-person request
  • Mail request

In-person request

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, interested persons could make in-person requests for Tennessee death records at:

Tennessee Vital Records
1st Floor, Andrew Johnson Tower
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243

The Office of Vital Records provides a Customer Service Window for interested persons to make in-person requests. At the Customer Service Window, requesters are required to fill out a paper order form and present proper identification. Applicants who are not related to the deceased must present related documents at the time of submission to prove their rights to the records.

In-person requests automatically authenticate the identity of the applicant, with or without the presentation of proper photo identification. However, if the requester does not pass the identity verification process, they must provide identification documents at the front counter once the order is submitted for processing.

In-person order attracts an additional $4.00 vendor fee and only accepts credit/debit cards. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person requests at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records are suspended until the Office reopens.

Alternatively, interested persons may visit any county health department for Tennessee death records. With the introduction of the electronic issuance system, all county health departments can provide statewide registered death certificates. As such, there is no need to visit the county where the death occurred to obtain a copy of a Tennessee death record.

Mail request

When ordering a Tennessee death certificate by mail, the requester must first download and complete the Application for Certified Copy of a Tennessee Certificate of Death Form from the website of the Tennessee Office of Vital Records. The form must be accompanied by a money order or check made payable to “Tennessee Vital Records” for the appropriate fee, as well as any of the following for identification purposes:

  • A notarized application for a certified copy
  • A photocopy of a government-issued identification card, which includes the signature of the requester

The Office of Vital Records only provides the Cause of Death to the decedent's spouse, parents, child, or an attorney or agency acting on behalf of the deceased's estate or qualifying family member. Documents showing entitlement to the death certificate must also be submitted, where applicable. Requesters are to mail the necessary documents to the address below:

Tennessee Vital Records
1st Floor, Andrew Johnson Tower
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243

The accepted forms of identification when requesting Tennessee death records via any means include:

  • Current driver's license, including the issue and expiration date
  • Military I.D. card
  • Current passport
  • Employment authorization card
  • Certificate of Citizenship or Citizenship I.D. card
  • Alien, temporary, or permanent resident card
  • U.S. Certificate of Naturalization

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

Tennessee death records are considered public records; hence, they are accessible to interested members of the public. Death records fall within the Tennessee Public Records Act’s definition of public records. This Act grants all members of the public access to vital records, except those restricted by a court order or certain legal provisions.

Anyone can request certified copies of Tennessee death certificates as long as the records are not restricted and all necessary fees are paid. A Tennessee death certificate search can be conducted online, by mail, or in person via the State’s Office of Vital Records website.

How Much Does a Death Certificate Cost in Tennessee?

The fee for searching for a death certificate in Tennessee via the Office of Vital Records is $15. This includes one certified copy of the death certificate. Every additional copy ordered afterward costs $15 each.

If the Office cannot locate the requested death certificate, they will provide a letter certifying that no record was found. Note that search fees are non-refundable.

Acceptable forms of payment for mail-in requests include money orders and checks made payable to “Tennessee Vital Records.” On the other hand, requesters may make payments using credit/debit cards, cash, checks, or money orders for in-person requests at the Customer Service Window.

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

The processing time for death records requests depends on the method of request. Walk-in requests are generally completed while the applicant waits. The applicant, therefore, obtains the death certificate the same day the request is made. However, mail-in requests require a processing period of 6 weeks. This time frame does not include the delivery time.

How Long to Keep Records After Death

Generally, relevant documents of the deceased should not be discarded until at least three years after the death. However, the vital records of the deceased should be kept indefinitely. This includes birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates. The deceased’s financial records may be kept for three years, while the medical records and other related documents should be kept for ten years

How to Expunge Your Death Records in Tennessee

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated §40-32-101, an expungement is a court-ordered process that allows the legal record of some criminal cases, including convictions and arrests to be erased from a person’s records. As such, in the State of Tennessee, only some criminal records can be expunged. There is no provision for the expungement of Tennessee death records.

How to Seal Your Death Records in Tennessee

Just as with expungement, Tennessee law does not make provision for sealing death records in the State. Most vital records in Tennessee are typically not sealed to the public, except for adoption records. Adoption records are usually sealed pursuant to an order of the court where the adoption was concluded.

How to Unseal Your Death Records in Tennessee

Since Tennessee law does not provide for the sealing of death records, there is never a need to unseal death records in Tennessee. Adoption records, being the only vital records that may be sealed in the State of Tennessee, may be unsealed by contacting the specific county court where the adoption was concluded.

How to Use the Tennessee Death Registry

The Department of Health has a Vital Records Information System Management (VRISM) Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS), where funeral directors or medical certifiers can register deaths in the State. Here is how to use the Tennessee death registry:

  • The funeral director has to register to log in to the system

  • Then select a location

  • To register a New Death record, click the words Death>New Death>Create

  • Enter the decedent's full name, sex, death date, and birth records

  • Click on “Search” to check if there is a duplicate of the record on file

  • If no record is found, click on “Create New Case” and start registering by providing the appropriate information on the following tabs:

  • Tab 1: Decedent

  • Tab 2: Decedent Info

  • Tab 3: Origin/Race

  • Tab 4: Parents Information

  • Tab 5: Disposition of Body

  • Tab 6: Funeral Director/Embalmer

  • Tab 11: Case Actions (only fill in the “Assign your case to a Physician or Medical Examiner” section).

  • Click on Finish

  • A VRISM Warning Screen will appear if any information is missing from the record. The Funeral Director has to complete it before it can be assigned to the Medical Certifier.

  • Once a record is assigned to a physician, a mail will be sent to notify the physician of such a record.

  • The medical certifier will click on “Process,” which leads to the following tabs:

  • Tab 7: Time/Autopsy

  • Tab 8: Cause of Death

  • Tab 9: Manner/Details/Injury

  • Tab 10: Certifier

  • Tab 11: Case Actions

  • After filling in all the information on the tabs, click “Finish”

  • Click “Save and Return to Record” on the next screen

  • Review all the information, and ensure you assign the record to a funeral home at the top right section of Tab 11.

  • Then click on the “Certify” button on the bottom left.

  • Click the “Finish” button and “save as pending”

  • The record goes back to the funeral home to be registered with the State.

After deaths have been registered and death certificates have been obtained, family members can inform the general public by making Tennessee death notices. When death is registered, individuals can access such records by conducting a Tennessee death index search on the State’s Office of Vital Records website. Eligible individuals can use the United States death registry to record the deaths of individuals whose states are unknown.

How to Find an Obituary for a Specific Person in Tennessee

The best place to find an obituary for a specific person is at the Tennessee Library & Archives office. Record seekers can visit the office between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm during business days to conduct a Tennessee obituary search. Alternatively, a requester can use the online tool available on the Tennessee Library & Archives website to search for a specific person’s obituary. To streamline the search, a record seeker must provide the specific person’s full name, date of death/notice/obituary, county, or race. Requesters may perform a Tennessee obituary search for free.

How to Conduct a Free Obituary Search in Tennessee

A record seeker can conduct a free obituary search at the Tennessee Library & Archives. This free obituary lookup can be done online or in person. For instance, record seekers can find Nashville Obituaries for 1913 online by providing the deceased’s full name, date of death/notice/obituary, county, and race in the appropriate search boxes. Alternatively, a Tennessee obituary search can be carried out in person by visiting the Tennessee State Library & Archives office during business hours on Mondays to Fridays. Tennessee's free obituary search is available to every member of the public.

What are Tennessee Death Notices?

Tennessee death notices are publications that offer brief details of deaths that occur within the state. Information regarding death notices can be found online or in hardcopy newspapers. For instance, record seekers can find death notices in Nashville Newspapers from 1855 to 1907 online on the Tennessee Library & Archives website.

What is the Difference Between Death Notices and Obituaries?

Death notices and obituaries are ways loved ones usually announce a relative’s death to the general public. The differences between these two are:

  • Announcement: Death notices are brief announcements of deaths, while obituaries are more detailed announcements that provide a snapshot of the decedent’s life.
  • Content: A death notice contains information like the decedent’s name, age, date of death, date, and location of funeral or memorial service, and donation details. In contrast, obituaries are usually longer than death notices. It contains the decedent’s biological information, hobbies, names of family members, and major life events or accomplishments.
  • Writing: A death notice is usually written by surviving relatives and submitted to the newspaper, while obituaries are mostly written by news publication staff.

Note that the Tennessee Library & Archives office allows for a free obituary search in the state. Also, death notices can be viewed for free. For instance, record seekers can obtain Nashville obituaries & death notices for 1913 on the Tennessee Library & Archives website for free.

What is the Difference Between a Death Certificate and Other Death Records?

The difference between a death certificate and other death records is in the information they provide. Tennessee death certificates are official documents that contain the decedent's social security number, full name, birth parents, birth records, sex, occupation, marital status, date, place, and cause of death, and date and place of burial. In contrast, other death records like death verification contain the deceased's name and the date and place of death. The Tennessee State Library and Archives and the state vital records office are the state agencies in charge of public death records. These agencies use their vital statistics to inform public health policymaking, resource collection, and research. This allows a record seeker to conduct a death record search in Tennessee by mail or in person.

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