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That other death certificate

The question popped up on a Facebook group, and a reader promptly alerted The Legal Genealogist to this most interesting issue.

MT.deathWhy would a death certificate be issued by the State of Montana when the person died in another state?1

The example posted wasn’t a complete certificate, but it was absolutely clear that it wasn’t a mistake by a poster.

Nope, it was crystal clear: the man had died in Minnesota; the death certificate was from the State of Montana, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

And a quick check of death certificates digitized by for the State of Montana will turn up other examples, like the one you see illustrating this post (and you can click it to enlarge the image).

Just between 1941 and 1944 in the records of Beaverhead County alone, you will find death certificates of:

• Frank P. Birrer, who died in Spokane, Washington;2

• Leo Dwight Roland, who died aboard the SS Edwin B. DeGalia at sea off California3

• Earl Lewis Wheat, who died in Salt Lake City;4

• John Edie, who died in Kalamazoo, Michigan;5

• Peder Jensen, who died in Caldwell, Idaho;6

So… what’s up with this? Why is Montana issuing death certificates for people who died a long way away from the Big Sky State?

The answer, of course, will be found in the law.

Montana statutes for many years expressly required a burial permit before any body could be buried in the state. In the laws of 1921, for example, one section provided that: “No sexton or person in charge of any cemetery in which interments are made shall inter or permit the interment of any body unless it is accompanied by a burial permit …”7

The same was true in earlier laws: a burial permit had to be obtained, and to get the burial permit, a death certificate had to be filed with the local registrar’s office.8 And it was true later: the 1947 code provided that a death certificate had to be filed with the local registrar prior to interment or other disposition of a dead body.9

Although the statutes often spoke only in terms of deaths occurring in the state of Montana,10 there wasn’t any exception written into the law for a death occurring outside of the state. At a minimum, there had to be a permit issued by the state where the death occurred and that had to be recorded by the local registrar.11

And, of course, when the statutes don’t say everything we hope they might say, we can look to see if there are rules that fill in the gaps. And, in Montana, there were and they did. Regulation 63 of the Montana Board of Health at the time provided:

When bodies are brought into any registration district … from points without the State of Montana,… the local registrar of the district in which the body is to be interred … will issue a burial permit in the same way as if death had occurred in his district and make out a death certificate from the transit permit, writing across the face of such certificate the words “Imported Case.”12

And that is why you’ll find death certificates in Montana county records for deaths outside of Montana: it was legally required for a burial in Montana.


  1. Rose Caswell, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – RAOGK USA Facebook group, posted 20 Jan 2015.
  2. Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 2788 (1943), Frank P. Birrer; digital images, “Montana, Beaverhead County Records, 1862-2009,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., death certificate no. 2790 (1943), Leo Dwight Roland.
  4. Ibid., death certificate no. 2825 (1943), Earl Lewis Wheat.
  5. Ibid., death certificate no. 2833 (1943), John Edie.
  6. Ibid., death certificate no. 2848 (1943), Peder Jensen.
  7. §2531, Revised Codes of Montana of 1921 (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1921), I: 993; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  8. §1770, 1915 Supplement to the Revised Codes of Montana of 1907 (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1916), 309; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  9. See R.C.M. 1947, §69-4424, in State of Montana, Manual for Local Registrars (September 1975), 6; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  10. See §2526, Revised Codes of Montana of 1921.
  11. See C.44, L. 1943, in Montana State Board of Morticians, Laws, Rules and Regulations (n.p., 1963), 14-15; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  12. Public Health Laws and Regulations, State of Montana, Bulletin of the State Board of Health (Helena: State Board of Health, 1936), 62-63 (emphasis added); digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
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