Chronic Disease Teaching Tools - Vital Records Mortality (Death) Data

Death Statistics are a fundamental source of information used in the evaluation of the health of a population and the circumstances associated with injury and chronic disease. Death statistics are used in various manners at all levels of public health practice. These data aid local health practitioners in identifying the diseases and conditions frequently associated with death and preparing for future needs for health services. Through the analysis and publication of the number and rate of deaths for specific diseases and injuries, support is generated for injury and disease prevention programs.

What is a death certificate?

  • The death certificate is the official source of information about deceased persons and the cause of their death. It is both a legal and a statistical document required for several purposes: to obtain a burial permit, to prove death for insurance purposes, and to legally establish the cause of death. Only a spouse, child, or parent of the deceased person, or select individuals with legal authority such as the executor has access to the death certificate.

How does the information on the death certificate get captured into a data set?

  • The New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Production Systems Management processes data from death certificates recorded in New York State exclusive of New York City. Through a cooperative agreement, the DOH receives data on deaths recorded in New York City and those recorded outside of New York State to residents of New York State.
  • Information from the death certificate is entered into a computerized database. The database contains over 70 data elements containing information on the deceased person, place of residence, place of death and cause of death. State and local agencies also have access to the database for analytical purposes.

What is the underlying cause of death?

  • The underlying cause of death is the disease or injury that initiated the train of events leading directly to death or the circumstances of the accident or violent act which produced the fatal injury. Identification of the underlying cause of death allows public health practitioners to develop programs that lead to the prevention of the onset of a chain of events leading to death.
  • The cause of death currently reported in the New York State vital statistics database is the underlying cause classified according to the tenth revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD, 10th Revision) adopted by New York State in 1999. From 1979 through 1998, the underlying cause was classified according to the ninth revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD, 9th Revision). By utilizing the ICD, causes of death are standardized by translating the verbal cause into a medical code.

Are all deaths occurring in New York State represented in New York's vital statistics database?

  • All the death statistics in New York’s vital statistics database are based on the death records of deaths of New York State residents. The deaths are allocated to the place of usual residence as reported on the death certificates, with one exception. Deaths occurring to inmates of state and federal institutions within the first year of their incarceration are allocated to their residence at the time of admission. After one year, the institution then becomes the place of residence. Deaths of non-residents occurring in New York State are not represented.

How long does it take to process death data?

  • Compiling information on all deaths that occur in New York in a particular year and preparing a data set for public use takes a considerable amount of time. As a result, complete files are usually not available for many months after the end of the calendar year. Before then, preliminary files are made available to the Department of Health to provide provisional data until the files are completed. Corrections to death information, particularly for cause of death, are applied to the provisional file as the corrections are received from the medical certifier. Files are closed a minimum of seven months following the end of the calendar year, and corrections submitted subsequent to that time may or may not be represented on the files.

Is there national death data or data from other states to compare with New York?

  • The Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) annually receives vital statistics data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. NCHS then combines all of the data into a national mortality data set that is available from the NCHS.

Where can I get more information on vital records?

  • For more information about vital statistics, visit our web pages at
  • For more information about certificates of birth, death, marriage and dissolution of marriage (divorce/annulment), visit our web pages at The New York State Department of Health Bureau of Vital Records is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time, excluding holidays. The phone number is 855-322-1022.