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How can I legally obtain a 1918 Kansas Death Certificate?

edited June 11 in Family Tree

I'm hoping to view an October 1918 death record from Bourbon County, KS to see if the decedent's birthplace/parents' names might help confirm/refute he was my great-grandfather, who disappeared from southern Illinois in May 1916. Kansas law (see link below) limits access to such records to immediate family members (defined as parents, spouses, siblings, children, grandchildren, or first cousins). As a [possible] great-grandchild, it was the interpretation of the representatives I have spoken to at KDHE and their 3rd party records fulfillment company that I am ineligible to view the death certificate in question. Does anyone have experience navigating other possible legal avenues to obtain such a record?

My great-grandfather's parents, siblings, wife, and children never knew what happened to him after his disappearance in May 1916. Last summer, I identified a WW I draft registration card from Bourbon County, Kansas for a person with the same birthdate and essentially the same name; the birthplace was only listed with the specificity of "United States". Further searching revealed a September 1916 marriage announcement with that name in the Fort Scott Tribune (Bourbon County, Kansas). The announcement went into some detail about the bride, her family, and their connections in the community, but only mentioned that the groom was a brakeman for the railroad, which also happens to be the same occupation my great-grandfather held in southern Illinois. An October 1918 death notice in the Tribune indicates the man died of influenza. Here, too, no information was provided about any parents/siblings or place of origin.

The Kansas couple had not yet had children, so there are no descendants to compare for genetic similarity. I have looked extensively for any records pertaining to the man but have been unable to find anything prior to September 1916. Assuming he was my great-grandfather and that he had told his second wife the truth about his birthplace and/or what his parents' names were (even if he likely left out the details about his first marriage and children), I feel like the information contained on the death certificate might be my only hope of resolving our 105 year old family mystery.

Best Answer

  • Gordon CollettGordon Collett ✭✭✭
    Accepted Answer

    I've been thinking about this for a few days. Did the clerks conclude you could not get the record because you were a great-grandchild or because you were not able to say with 100% certainty that you are?

    If it was the first, can your parent who is his grandchild apply for this for you? Or an aunt or uncle who is?

    If it was the second, then I would stand up for your own convictions that he is your great-grandfather based on same name (ok, everyone, go ahead and shudder and cry in unison "same name doesn't mean same person!" but, truth be told, sometime two records with the same name really are the same person.), same birth date, same state, and same occupation and declare 100% that he is until proven otherwise. And find a grandchild of his to apply for the certificate for you.

    If the death certificate closes your case, then getting it was, of course, completely legal. If the death certificate only has his name and leaves the mystery hanging, he still might be and getting it would still be legal. If the death certificate has his full information including parents and full birth place and shows him not to be your great-grandfather, all you can do is admit your mistake but still stand fast in the conviction that you were sure what you were doing, at the time, was legal.

    I would still contact Reclaim The Records and see if they want to take up a project in Kansas. The law really needs updating. Probably a very large number of people dying in 1918 don't have living grandchildren or any of the other allowed relatives. If an 80 yo died in 1918, he would have been having children born in the 1860's so his grandchildren would have been born before 1900. They need to put something reasonable in place like only to immediate family if the death was within the last 75 years.


  • I suggest you call and ask them if you count as an immediate relative.

    Vital Statistics - Birth, death, divorce & marriage records

    (785) 296-1400

  • This organization may be of help to you. It's called "Reclaim the Records" and is a non-profit organization with a cool story behind their founding. They work for public access to public records currently being held by various government agencies which do not want to release them. Reclaim the Records has been successful in the release of the Missouri Death Index and the Nebraska Death Index along with many other record types in many states. You may want to check with them to see if they've done work in Kansas.

    "Reclaim the Records"

    Best wishes!

  • tyamstyams
    edited June 14

    @MelissaWright5 It looks like Reclaim the Records hasn't done any work in Kansas yet, though I agree with @Gordon Collett that Kansas' laws are ripe for updating.

    @Gordon Collett I think the main barrier to my access was the fact that I couldn't demonstrate that my relationship to the decedent was one of the enumerated relationships on their list. I did point out that "related as at least a cousin" would also seem to apply to great-grandparent/great-grandchild pairs, since like first cousin pairs, they share 1/8 of their DNA on average. Otherwise, I tend to agree with your interpretation that I would be acting with lawful intent were I to seek access as a great-grandchild.

    The decedent died before he and his Kansas wife had any children, so there are no descendants on that end. My mother is the last surviving grandchild on our end, though she is a bit paranoid about the requirement that she provide her SSN to the 3rd party records company in order to request the death certificate. She had a identity theft issue several years ago and operates with heightened vigilance in that arena.

    At any rate, the current law does seem rather absurd in regards to identity integrity, given that it covers individuals, such as the man in this case, who died more that 100 years ago and 17 years before the passage of the Social Security Act. Still, this hysteria-induced, brazen disregard for logic and reason seems quite consistent with other laws written or advocated by Kansas' former Secretary of State, Kris Kobach.

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