Finding accurate information about an acquaintance or distant relative can be hard. Perhaps you lost touch with that person or the people they know. It might feel strange to ask what’s going on with them, especially if you’re wondering how to find out if someone died.
Death isn’t the easiest subject to discuss, but there are some ways you can try to find out without having to talk to the people you know. You may also be able to find out more details, such as the cause of death and whether they’re survived by family members or friends. Let’s take a look at seven ways to learn how you can find out if someone died.
Information you’ll need
Before starting your search, make sure you have what you need to have the best chances of yielding a result. Edward J. Ajaeb, the founder and president of Nighthawk Strategies, a private investigation company based in Washington, DC, said the more information you have about the person in question the better.
“The more information you have, those will help in locating results,” Ajaeb said, “particularly if the deceased person had a common name.”
Ajaeb suggested the following information to have on hand:
- Full name
- Year of birth
- Where this person lived
- Any names of a spouse, children, siblings or other family members
How to try to check if someone died
Once you have enough information, you can take any of the following steps to try and find out whether the person in question died.
Step 1: Do an online search
This sounds like common sense, but doing a general online search could yield results. Search for any identifying information you have on a search engine. Don’t forget to include the word “death” in your query.
For instance, type in the person’s name and their location, then “death.” You can also search for the person and their church or any other religious groups or organizations to which they belonged. Many church websites post obituaries or a list of congregation members who have passed away.
Step 2: Look for obituaries
Looking at the local newspaper in the area where this person resided is a great place to start. Most will have obituary pages in print or online about the deaths of local residents—you can find records for previous months or years, too.
You can also search for obituaries at local funeral homes to see if they publish burial or funeral information.
Step 3: Search public records
Ajaeb suggested researching public records to determine whether someone has passed away. You can look at recorded documents of any property the person owned.
“If the individual owned any real estate, those properties would need to be titled over to a new owner after the person’s death,” Ajaeb said. “Often, you may find information pertaining to someone’s death among the various land and deed documents, which are held by the local county recorder of deeds or county clerk office.”
To search for public records, head to your local county recording
agency for any deed records in the person’s name. Ajaeb said this method may be a bit more technical and complex but could help discover crucial documents beyond what’s available online.
Otherwise, start a public records search online.
Step 4: Look on social media
Social media can yield some surprising results. It’s such a huge part of many people’s lives—people announce a family member or friend’s death on their profiles. If the person who died still has a profile, a family member may have kept it up so people can post memories.
Go on a social media platform you know this person used and see if they still have an account. If so, you may be able to determine what happened (assuming you have access) based on their profile.
If not, scroll through the profiles of friends and family members of this person to see if you can find some clues. For someone who died fairly recently, you may be able to quickly find what you need.
Step 5: Review government records
Looking for government records may be one of the most accurate ways to determine if someone died, especially if you can’t find out through people you know. Local governments keep death records of the people who live there.
The downside is that these records may not be free, nor are they always digitized. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try. Keep in mind it may take a few days or weeks, depending on the local county government.
In most cases, you can do some research at the local vital records department, Ajaeb said. You have to visit the records department in the area where the person lived and/or you think the death may have occurred. However, Ajaeb also noted that death certificates can only be released to family members.
In this case, you can try looking through the CDC’s National Death Index, which gathers information from local health databases. Otherwise, a local online database might be better.
One final place you can consider looking is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). This index uses the records of the Social Security Administration. The database is available through some third-party websites and the US national archives.
Step 6: Read genealogy websites
Using genealogy websites may be more user-friendly because they tend to have intuitive search databases, but many of these services aren’t free—though you can sign up for a free trial.
You might have to dig through a ton of records to find what you’re looking for unless you have a lot of information on this person.
A free option could be heading to either your local public library or the one where the person resided. The library may have a database on localbase, though you may need a librarian’s help.
Don’t forget to check local historical societies. If the person you’re looking for was a club member or lived in an area with an active society, you could find death records there.
Step 7: Head to the local courthouse
Going to the local courthouse is another option to find death records. You can look through the probate court for a last will and testaments of the individual you’re looking for. If there’s any information, you should be able to find out if this person had an estate or a will with instructions for their surviving family members.
Sadly, most local governments do not necessarily have robust digital records, so you might have to visit in person to find what you’re looking for. In some cases, you may be able to call and ask about a person’s records. Before going this route, check to see if you have to pay any fees—in most cases they’re minimal.
Doing your own research and answering the question of whether someone died may help you find closure. It might feel upsetting or difficult to discover someone you know has died (whether or not you know the cause), but using any of these steps may help you find out what happened.