FamilySearch.org has the San Francisco County coroner’s records. These records are as insightful as they are disturbing. Rarely do we get an actual account of our ancestor’s death. It makes these records one of a kind.
What’s In The Coroner’s Records?
The Coroner’s Office detailed what they found at the scene of the death in a death report. Each death report is two pages. The first page includes basic information about the person. It’s more like a police report than a death certificate.
A example of a coroner’s death report:
You’ll find the person’s name, age, and address. There will be a description of the events leading up to their death. The cause of death will be given. And, their will be a list of witnesses. Often times, these are relatives.
Depending on when the event was recorded, there may be other vital information such as birth date and place, whether the deceased was married, and if so, the name of their spouse. There are places for physical appearance, though these aren’t always filled out.
You notice a lot of the information is left blank. Since this is used to report the circumstances surrounding the death, witnesses might not have had certain information or maybe there were no witnesses at all.
The Details May Be Upsetting
It’s one thing to know that your ancestor died of a heart attack, choking, or even suicide. It’s another to have it recorded coldly in great detail.
Be prepared that these reports may be hard to read. One entry was very description about the way a man committed suicide. It even gave information from a witness that the person was depressed about not being able to end his life sooner.
One of my relatives collapsed while eating at a restaurant. The details of his evening out with someone living in the same apartment building were sad to read.
The report stated:
“They went to Ben’s Cafe, 3015 Mission St. about 4 PM and deceased ordered breaded veal cutlets and while they were having dinner the deceased was approximately half finished with his meal when he collapsed at the table and gasped for breath…”
His poor dinner guest must have been distraught as Lois Carlson, a waitress, called Emergency Services.
And then, there are the babies. 4 months old. Not breathing. An ambulance is called, but it’s too late. These are so hard to take.
You Don’t Get Details Like This in Other Records
Unless you have letters written by a relative relating the events of another passing, you won’t get this kind of detail about someone’s death.
While it can be upsetting, it is a detailed account of their last hours that might add depth to what you already know of their story. In cases like the suicide I mentioned, it might help understand the sadness this person was living with.
It may also lead you to other records such as the death certificate, obituary, or mortuary record.
Not Everyone is In These Books
It might seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Not everyone who died in San Francisco is in these books. The coroner had to be involved in order for an investigation to be done and a report to be written up.
I don’t know exactly when or why the coroner gets involved. On TV, it’s always a murder. In real life, it appears that whenever emergency personnel were called to a scene the coroner was called in to determine the cause of death.
If you find your relative in these records, you might learn some interesting information about their last moments. It will help fill in the story, at least the last chapter.
How To Access The San Francisco Coroner’s Records
- Go to https://www.familysearch.org.
- Click Search>Records in the upper menu, then click on “Browse All Published Collections”.
- In the left hand column, click on United States of America>California
- Scroll down the list and click on “California, San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997”.
- This collection is partially indexed. Try a few searches.
- If you don’t find the name you are looking for, scroll to below the search boxes and choose “Browse Through ######## Records”.
- Click on Coroner’s Records. It’s important to know at a minimum the year the death took place. Note: There are two different sets of records in this collection: Coroner’s Registers and Death Reports. Also, note that they are in alphabetical order by month, so you will need to scroll through the list to find the right month and year.
Have you found coroner’s records for any of your ancestors? If so, tell us about it in the comments.