Question: My ancestor drowned off the coast of Boston in 1897. I know this from oral tradition, and a yellowed fragile news clipping. Why can't I locate a death record for him?
Answer: I would imagine that the ancestor's body was not recovered. If this is the case then it explains for the lack of a record. Unless a body was located a certified death record would have not been issued. You may search for a memorial service in the church he attended, or a cenotaph in the cemetery were his family was buried. A cenotaph will mark the grave of a individual not interred at that location.