Digging into Deaths of American Citizens Abroad

Posted by Paul Rawlins on December 21, 2010 in Content

Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad is, I admit, a rather specialized database—though it was just bolstered by a major update that fills in the years 1910–1962. These are records created by American consulates overseas when a U.S. citizen (other than military personnel) died within their district. My people are pretty much homebodies, so I don’t have any relative I know of in the database. Which is really too bad, because these can be fascinating records.

Sometimes you get just the basic form. Forms varied a little over time, but they looked something like this:

You may find names and addresses of family, both back in the States and abroad, plus details of the burial and death, perhaps an occupation or naturalization information.

But that may be just the beginning. If you do find an ancestor in this database, make sure you check the pages immediately preceding and following the record (with the arrow button at the top right of the screen) because sometimes there is an entire file.

You might uncover a little mystery about a family fortune:

You might learn that your aunt who died when the Titanic went down had an apartment in Paris:

If you happened to be related to Reverend Edmund A. Neville, who died in Saltillo, Mexico, in 1913, you’ll get a good chunk of history. There’s a letter from the vice consul detailing Reverend Neville’s return to Mexico shortly before he died and meetings he had in Washington, D.C., and New York. A newspaper clipping from the Mexican Herald talks about Neville’s extensive travels, including his encounter with cannibals in New Guinea. There are also details of his last day and sudden passing, plus a list of his effects.

William Poland’s attempt to dive from the mast of the S.S. Silver Sword generated six pages of documentation. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover himself took an interest in the 30-plus pages on Fred Curtis Thornley. And the file for Sinclair Lewis, America’s first Nobel Laureate in literature, contains more than 100 pages of correspondence and other paperwork dealing with his estate. So if your ancestors had a bit more of the wanderlust in them than mine and you do find one in the Deaths of American Citizens Abroad database, cross your fingers. You may be in for some eye-opening armchair (or computer desk) travel.



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2 SharonDecember 23, 2010 at 1:34 am

Has anyone had trouble with the saved census not showing up on the left side of tree as Residence. I have had to put some of them in by hand. Some will save that way and some won’t.

3 Shirley GillespieDecember 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I just found a relative who died in Bolivia, S. America. Raymond began his adventure by going to Alaska to find gold. From there to Hawaii and on to Bolivia. He worked for the railroad down there and wrote home about the railroad Pay offices being robbed. Could the robbers have been Butch Cassidy and Sundance?????? One letter to Iowa he mentioned he wanted to return to his girl in Hawaii. I have been looking for quite a while for this piece of evidence on his death. There was a letter to Iowa but someone destroyed it when the Sargent farm house was emptied. Thank you Ancestry.

4 Carol A. H.December 24, 2010 at 3:01 am

Sharon #2

I have that problem occasionally. You have to contact Ancestry. They have fixed it for me but only on a case by case basis. It’s one of the quirky things on my list that happens on Ancestry.

5 VirginiaDecember 24, 2010 at 9:51 am

Thank you for this new data base…I have long suspected that many of my Italian relatives who appeared to disappear on me had gone back to Italy to live after retiring. (They kept their US citizenship so they could collect Social Security.)

One record not only gave the cemetery and mausoleum but also the row number. It also included the names and addresses of his surviving siblings.

To make sure I did a thorough search, I went for the wild card approach: the only information I put in for the search was died in Italy (over 14,000). Glad I am retired!!!


6 Peggy HendersonDecember 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I was unaware of the existence of this kind of a data base. Although I did not find my relative who fell overboard and died at sea in 1910 while returning from the oilfields of Burma I am encouraged to find that there are places to look for information.

7 MonikaDecember 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Does anyone have any problems adding a wife to the tree? For some odd reason, no matter whom I am trying to add a wife to this morning, there is a little sign on the bottom left of the page that says “error on page”?????

8 BEEDecember 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm

New computer with Windows 7. Love it so far, but can’t get enhanced viewer to work – says it downloaded and installed successfully, but there is no document, and I get the notice to download again. I thought it might be a Firefox or firewall problem, but it looks like it’s been an ancestry problem with others for a while now?
STILL waiting for those WWI Draft Registration cards from Pgh, PA to appear where I now have a blank page?

9 Deb HDecember 30, 2010 at 7:01 am

How is all this spam getting thru? #7, #10, #11…

10 Deb HDecember 30, 2010 at 7:02 am

OK…maybe not #11 !

11 BobNYDecember 30, 2010 at 7:51 am


Because nobody at ACOM reads anything in their purported blog after they post it. It has become a gathering place for off-topic complaints (like #2, #4, #8, #9, #12) and a smattering of spam.

I consider #11 to be spam as it appears to be Andy’s using the blog as his personal lab station.

12 Andy HatchettDecember 30, 2010 at 9:31 am

Bob Re: #14

More like Andy is using the Blog to determine just what can be done using it…Like Italic, or Bold, or even Bold Italicetc.

I wanted to see if different titles could be used to highlight an entry- and have found out that they can.

13 worshacfDecember 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

Maderator are you asleep again?

14 Paul RawlinsDecember 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

Glad you are enjoying the database.

Not asleep, just a little late for work–had to shovel snow.

15 Andy HatchettDecember 31, 2010 at 4:15 am

Win a one Year World Deluxe Membership!

Details are on the US Census Message Board.

Happy New Year- Which started 15 minutes ago on Christmas Island!


16 Andy HatchettDecember 31, 2010 at 4:17 am
17 BEEDecember 31, 2010 at 10:07 am

Hi – I guess I fit into that “gathering place for off-topic “complainers” category, but after reading and contributing to a number of these blogs, it’s my observation that a particular “off-topic” generates the most response, especially if it helps solve the problem, compared to the “on-topic”.
So as I continue to be “off topic”, I wish one and all a Very Happy, Healthy New Year!

18 P J EvansJanuary 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm

another off-topic -
Is there a wish list somewhere so that we can make suggestions for future (sometimes much-needed) improvements?

19 Andy HatchettJanuary 3, 2011 at 3:27 am

An actual, viewable list- no.

There is a message board for such ideas:

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