October 31, 2013 13:00 ET

Death Isn't Just for the Macabre -- Family History Research Can Begin by Looking at an Ancestor's End

From Stephen King to Peter Capaldi, Mystery and Suspense Can Turn Up in Any Family Tree

PROVO, UT--(Marketwired - Oct 31, 2013) - is encouraging family history fans to bring the stories of their ancestors to life this Halloween by exploring the informative side of death. While death can be a taboo topic, spoken about in hushed whispers or even avoided altogether, when it comes to family history, it's a commonality that can uncover fascinating insights about your ancestors' lives. Even Stephen King and the new Doctor Who Peter Capaldi have a few mysteries in their family trees.

"From accidental deaths abroad to those during times of conflict, death records can be incredible guides to helping you better understand the life and times in which your ancestors lived," said Michelle Ercanbrack, family historian for "Sometimes, they can uncover new family stories or reveal clues around a family member who may have been shrouded in mystery."

Perhaps a great-grandfather on your mother's side died while crossing the Atlantic on his way to America. Or, legend has it your 3rd great-grandfather on your father's side died a hero in the Civil War. When exploring your family history, has a bevy of resources to help better understand death records and what they can reveal.

As the official source of a person's passing, death records can help you find the name, residence, place and date of death, as well as cause of death and birth date. Tips to help you navigate death records include:

1. Maiden Name: Both parents are usually listed with their birthplaces, but the mother's maiden name can also be included.
2. Occupation: Knowing what your ancestor did for a living could lead to occupational or association records or even, explain earlier work-related migration.
3. Informant: Pay attention to the informant; they could be a relative, neighbor or friend, and research may reveal how they're connected.
4. Special Information: If your ancestor was institutionalized, there may be related records, additional details on a census form, or possibly an entry on the 1880 Defective, Dependent and Delinquent schedule.
5. Death, Burial, Cemetery and Obituaries: Contact the cemetery directly for burial records and to inquire about other family members interred there. Also search the Death, Burial, Cemetery and Obituaries collection on to find additional records.

From the master of the macabre to today's sci-fi stars, death is a part of every family tree. Interesting stories of death unearthed by this Halloween:

  • Best-selling author Stephen King has a 7th great-grandfather, Jonathan Nason, who was killed by a canoe oar -- an injury inflicted by his brother who according to historical records, was acting in self-defense.
  • The new Doctor Who and 12th actor to play the sci-fi hero, Peter Capaldi, has a great-grandfather Daniel McGinnes who died from injuries sustained when he fell over a stair rail leading into his house.
  • Journalist and television host Piers Morgan has a 2nd great-grandmother Helena Maria Bourke, who died in a shipwreck off the mouth of the River Arelho, north of Lisbon. She was traveling on the British steamer Roumania, bound for Bombay from Liverpool.

To find out how death played a role in your family history and to view helpful tutorials on what to look for in historical records, visit

Note: Nothing contained herein is meant to imply any celebrity endorsement, paid or otherwise.

About is the world's largest online family history resource with approximately 2.7 million paying subscribers across its many websites. More than 12 billion records have been added to the sites and users have created more than 50 million family trees containing more than 5 billion profiles. In addition to its flagship site, the Company operates several Ancestry international websites along with a suite of online family history brands, including AncestryDNA,, and, all designed to empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.

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