Here's How to Know if Someone's Died

Looking for someone who has died? Here's what to do

Red rose on gravestone in cemetery
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A reader recently wrote in with this question: "I'm trying to track down someone I used to know, I believe they passed away several years ago, but I haven't had much luck tracking him down. Are there ways to find this information online?"

Sometimes you can find the answer online, but not always

There are a number of resources you can use to find out if someone has passed away. The most direct method is simply to type the person's name into a search engine, i.e., Google.

Use quotes around the name to specify that you want the search engine to search for the entire name, with both the first and the last name right next to each other: "John Smith". If the person has had any kind of presence online, their name will pop up in the search results. You can filter these results (again, using Google as our example search engine) by clicking on the options on the left-hand side of the browser: News, Images, Videos, etc.

Here are a few more ways you can track down information about someone online.

  • Obituary Searches: An obituary is usually published online by local newspapers, if they have a website, and is kept up online for at least a couple of weeks. Older obituaries can be tracked down with a little bit of detective work, including historical obituaries.
  • The Best Free People Search Sites: A general search engine query doesn't always bring back the information that you're looking for. There are many quality Web sites out there that focus specifically on only retrieving people-oriented information, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and more, including information on whether someone has passed away recently.
  • Top Ten Free Public Records Search Picks: Sites that focus only on public records can be incredibly useful resources for digging up all sorts of information, including vital, historical, and genealogical records.

It's important to point out that it's not always possible to find out about the passing of someone online right away.

There are many different factors that go into posting this information online, and they vary from person to person. If the person in question had a significant position in local events, was involved in a large organization and led in some way, or was well-known in the community, obituaries are not always easy to find in search engines. However, as more and more newspapers - even those in small towns - are posting information online freely for everyone to read, this kind of information is not as hard to find as it used to be. 

Start out by searching just for the name in quotes, as indicated above. Sometimes you'll be able to find what you're looking for just that simply. If that doesn't work, try appending the city and state to the person's name. If that's too narrow, sometimes you can widen your circle by using the person's name the word "death" or "obituary". Remember, web search is not an exact science! It's almost impossible to predict exactly what your searches will bring back, but if you're persistent you will usually get the information that you are looking for.