Are You Searching for a Dead Person?

There are specific osint sources and information that is only available for people that have passed away.

Furthermore, standard sources for finding information on someone will often come up empty because your target is actually deceased. This is especially true with US-focused People-Searching Websites which often remove data on persons after their deaths. This post will explain how to check if a US-based person has passed away and/or find information that is only available about the deceased.

There are three main tools for finding dead people, and they are categorized by when the person died.

The time periods and associated tools are as follows:

1 – Deaths AFTER 2013 – Find A Grave (findagrave.com)

2 – Deaths between 1965 and 2013 – Ancestry-related websites that

3 – Deaths BEFORE 1965

1 – For Deaths AFTER 2013, researchers can use Find A Grave (findagrave.com). This tool focuses on finding actual graves (hence the name) rather than death records and relies on verified data from users. Despite the fact that this tool uses information from users, it is an amazingly comprehensive source, maybe even the best. There are MANY enthusiasts that search for graves and upload their information and often photos to source. And if the information you are looking for is not available, you can even submit a general request for someone to look for the grave of interest. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is actually much more difficult to find graves that are NOT documented by this tool.

Finally, Find A Grave is useful for deaths that occurred at any date before or after 2013. However, I recommend this tool specifically for deaths after 2013 because most other tools do not have information during that time period.

2 – For Deaths between 1965 and 2013, the Social Security Death Index is the best source for Americans. Rather than accessing the indiex yourself, you will need to find a genealogy tool with access to the index. However, per information provided by Anceestry.com, the Social Security Administration stopped using the Death Index starting in 2014 and instead began documenting deaths in the Death Master File. Access to this later source is very restricted, and for all intents and purposes it should not be considered as a viable source in your osint research.

3 – For Deaths before 1965, any standard genealogy website will do the trick. Try using the genealogy sites FamilySearch.org, GenealogyBank.com, and Ancestry.com. FamilySearch.org is highly recommended and all of its information is free, you only need to register an account.

Returning to the issue of pre-1965 deaths, there is no specific database for this information. However, historic deaths is one of, if not the, most prioritized info sought after by genealogy websites so you can assume it is more likely than not that you’ll find the death record you are looking for. Most genealogy sites will automatically search all of their data sources, but if you are looking for a death record make sure your search includes Census data. The specific details of US census data becomes public record after 72 years and will be incorporated into any genealogy site you use.

The following includes a basic overview of using the relevant sites.

The Find A Grave Website

Nonetheless, the search function within the actual findagrave.com website is pretty thorough and gives a lot of different options for different ways to search for a record. Therefore, you may decide to try using the website itself.

For example, as you see in the findagrave.com search function below, you can even choose to search by burial plot information. That might seem like an obscure bit of information, but many records will identify the specific plot or cemetery section. Based on that information, you can search for relatives by looking for grave sites next to the first one, or for grave sites within the same section of the cemetery, possibly filtered for people with the same last name.

Below you see an example of the kinds of information that might be available in a particular record.

Your record may not always have identified family members, memorials, or photos, but you can generally count on four pieces of information being available:

1 – Name

2 – Date of Birth (and maybe location)

3 – Date of Death (and maybe location)

4 – The cemetery where they were buried

Social Security Death Index

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is an official list of American’s whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration. The SSDI is available online (though only included deaths after 1965) and can be accessed for free at FamilySearch.org, GenealogyBank.com, and Ancestry.com.

See the URLs below:

(screenshot from Genealogy Bank – https://www.genealogybank.com/explore/ssdi/all)

More information on the SSDI is available here:

https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_Social_Security_Administration_Records

Genealogy Websites

As noted before, there are several genealogy websites that can be used but we are going to focus on how to use just one for searching deaths, Family Search (FamilySearch.org).

After you go to the website and quickly sign up for a free account (there are no strings attached as far as I can tell), you then go to the main page. To reach the basic search function, click on “Search” from the menu bar and then click on “Records” from the drop down menu.

Later on, you can return to this drop down menu and click on “Genealogies” or “Research Wiki.” Clicking on “Genealogies” will let you search family trees that were uploaded by users. “Research Wiki” is a wiki of different local genealogy-related databases that are specific to different locations.

You’ll want to start with the search records functions. The following search window will appear. If you submit a search here, the website will also search for results that are similar but not exactly what you typed (such as names there are spelt similarly to what you typed). If this give you too many results, then before getting started, it might be worth clicking on “More Options,” so you can choose to search for an exact spelling of a name. 

The following window will appear and you will notice that there are options for search for exactly what you typed.

At this point look under the heading “Life Event” and you will want to click on “ +death ”. If you have additional info like location or date/year you can add that in on the line below but it isn’t necessary. W

hen you are done, just hit search and hopefully you’ll find the right info.

That’s all, good luck!

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