Using Coroner’s Inquests

August 13, 2020

Coroner’s Inquests are among my favorite record groups. My grandfather died in 1942 in Marion, Ohio while unloading a delivery truck. I thought I knew the whole story. I had talked genealogy with my grandmother, the widow, on many occasions. When I read the testimony in the case, I was surprised to learn that the witness giving written testimony was my great grandfather. His son had not felt well and the father rode along on the delivery route that day. What a surprise!

Each county coroner keeps a ledger of investigations but did you know that there was once a packet of documents for each case and that they are still maintained in some counties? There is the Report of the Investigation, the Inventory and Description of the Body, the Abbreviated Form of Inquest, the Testimonial Accounts, the Return to the Clerk, and sometimes additional items such as the death certificate or autopsy report. A student intern working at OGS even discovered a bullet casing in the packet for one poor fellow. That is highly unusual, but could you imagine finding such a thing for an ancestor!

Yes, we do have a collection of coroner’s inquest packets in the Ohio Genealogical Society archival collection for Richland County. It includes the period 1912 to 1914 and then 1937 through 1964. There are 2,968 cases. Many volunteers unfolded, abstracted, and then entered data on each case into the computer. We noted name, date, place, cause of death, case number, file number, name of the coroner, and the names of those who gave testimony. This index has been added to the Library Special Collections section of the OGS website.

Okay, you’ll be quick to say, “I had no ancestors in Richland County…. How does this help me?” I want you to just browse through the document and take a look at the causes of death. You’ll see such things as coronary heart attack, cerebral apoplexy, acute pneumonia, and subdural hemorrhage. How about “old age”? Not every case is a strangulation by hanging or a mortal gunshot wound. The definition of coroner’s inquest is “an inquiry into the manner and cause of an individual’s death.” If the patient was under a doctor’s care in a hospital, there would have been no need for an investigation. But if our ancestor was found alone and deceased in their own home or on the street, then the coroner would be called. It is often a death from what we consider normal causes, and as genealogists, we may not think to seek out this record group.

Tom Neel, OGS Library Director

Note: Anyone requiring a photocopy or scan of a case file can use the OGS Library Copy Service ($5.00 prepaid) or visit our facility.