Every death is unique, but deaths also share similar features that allow them to be grouped into categories. Since its initial description over 800 years ago, the position of coroner has been charged with the determination of manner of death. This determination has been made by examination into the circumstances surrounding death and of wounds on the surface of the body. Over the years, physicians have gained sufficient understanding of the body such that the autopsy became an important part of a death investigation. With additional time, laws were changed so that individuals charged with the determination of manner of death were required to have appropriate training. Death certification is the means by which deaths are grouped together according to similar characteristics. The practice of death certification has led to effective public health programs and the advancement of medical science. The addition of manner of death to the death certificate is an American contribution to vital statistics registration. The purpose of the autopsy report differs from that of the death certificate; the report fully addresses the unique aspects of a death, while the certificate captures the essence of the circumstances surrounding death in a few words.