One of the difficulties in locating death records in Iowa is that they did not exist prior to 1880.* This means that roughly fifty years worth of ancestors passed away in our state without leaving behind that vital (if you’ll pardon the pun) piece of genealogical evidence.
So how could you prove that your ancestor died in 1872?
Cemeteries can be a good alternate source of information. Gravestone surveys might provide the full name of the deceased, and perhaps the year, at least, of death (and sometimes birth). But Cemetery records, besides providing documentation, might offer more information than a weather-worn stone—at the very least, the exact date of burial, which could lead to a greatly narrowed date of death, or perhaps even an obituary.
And if your ancestor was lucky enough to have been buried in a certain cemetery in Davenport, Iowa, you might even find more than that.
Oakdale Cemetery was established in 1856, and immediately began taking the burden off the overcrowded City Cemetery. Noted burials there include Bix Beiderbecke, artist Paul N. Norton, Phebe Sudlow, George L. Davenport **, Alice French, and orphans from the Iowa Soldier’s Orphans’ Home . In addition, two hundred and sixty-two of the 280 pioneer families of Scott County are buried there.
For many Scott County residents, including 262 of the 280 original pioneer families, Oakdale was the place to take one’s eternal rest.
Likewise, for many genealogists, Oakdale is the place to find information on those eternally resting Scott County residents who passed prior to 1880.
Oakdale’s interment records cover the basics—the date and place of burial and the name of the funeral home—but offer more: the full date of death, the place of death, and even date of birth (if known). And as if that wasn’t enough, they also provide a bonus: the cause of death, information which is rarely included in early obituaries.
You won’t find the names of the deceased’s parents in these records, as you would with death records, but otherwise Oakdale can provide both genealogical documentation and a whole lot of information.
Our Center has Oakdale’s interment records, and accompanying indexes, from 1860 to 1960 on microfilm. Both the running indexes*** and the records are clean, clear, and readable—it’s almost a joy to search for a name or interment number.
So if your Iowan ancestor died too early to leave behind a death record, cemetery records can be a good alternative resource. And if your ancestors passed away in Scott County, come visit our Center or drop us a line—we’ll be glad to search our cemetery collections for them.
Maybe they’re waiting for you in Oakdale!
*Although marriages were documented from the beginning of each county, Iowa first began compiling both birth and death records in 1880. Compliance wasn’t enforced until later, however, so these early records might not include every event.
** George L’oste Davenport was the first born son of Col. George Davenport and one of the men who helped greatly in the development of our city.
***Running indexes were added to as each record was filed. They are therefore arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname, but are chronological within those groups. In other words, if you look under the “B”s in Oakdale’s running index, you might find a Mr. Broom listed before a Mr. Balloon, if Mr. Broom was buried first.