Genealogy Search Tips

12 Tips for Finding Death Information

Discover an Ancestor's Place of Death, Names of Siblings, Father's Name, Mother's Maiden Name and More

There are many different sources for death information. Some sources are more relaible than others, some are only good for certain time periods and some are not always accurate.

We have seen different years of death for the same individual in different documents - so it is beneficial to have data from more than one information source.

College and University Alumni Magazines

Sometimes you know an ancestor's death date but don't have access to a newspaper that probably printed the ancestor's obituary.

You might try an organization such as a university or college from which your ancestor graduated. Many alumni magazines have published alumni obituaries and many of these previously, published magazines are available and free online.


You can usually find an individual's death date by looking at cemetery information. For example, you might go directly to the cemetery where the death date might be printed on your ancestor's tombstone.

You can also contact the cemetery manager or a local genealogical society, library or historical society. Some of these organizations might have photos of tombstones and/or transcriptions of tombstone information.

See our discussion of Cemetery Records for additional information.

Funeral Home Memorial Cards

Funeral home memorial cards are a good source of death dates. These are the small cards that the funeral home traditionally prints as a tribute to the deceased. They are usually available to everyone who attends the deceased's wake or funeral. Sometimes the burial date, usually a few days after the death date, is printed on the card.

Sometimes these cards can be found online and in many cases they are in family possessions. They are also called Prayer Cards, Funeral Cards, Memorial Cards or Holy Cards.

Local Genealogy Societies

In some cases you might know an ancestor's death date but the obituary is not online and you don't have access to a library in the area where your ancestor died.

Look online for a local genealogy society or genealogy group in the area where a newspaper might have published the obituary. The genealogy society or group might have volunteers who will look for the obituary at no charge or for a nominal fee. The local library might also have procedures for obtaining obituaries for people who do not live in the area of the library.

Death Indexes

Death indexes are good places to find death dates. If you enter death index and a state name into a search engine you will probably find a number of online death indexes for that state. A website might list individual death indexes for some of the counties, cities or towns in the state.

An individual death index might provide the death date and an obituary or the death index might provide the death date and the name of the parents of the deceased.

Search and Meta Search Engines

Use a search engine or meta search engine to find a death date. Key in an ancestor's name in quotes AND the year of death AND the county or town where the death occurred. You can also try the name in quotes AND year of death AND obituary.

You might find a death date or an obituary that was published in a local genealogy society listing, newspaper, newspaper almanac, genealogy forum or some other source.

State Death Indexes

To facilitate the ordering of copies of death certificates many states provide a free online index of death dates. So a person can search the state's records to find the death date of an ancestor before ordering a copy of his or her death certificate.

Users of these indexes are not required to buy a copy of a death certificate. So you can use a state index to try and find an ancestor's death date - then with the death date you can try to find an obituary in a local newspaper or use the death date in some other way.

Social Security Death Index

In many cases you can find the death date of a deceased US citizen in the Social Security Death Index. In some cases the exact date may not be availanle but at minimum the month and year of death will be provided.

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provides information about deceased people who had registered with Social Security and this list includes many people who born before 1900. See our discussion of the Social Security Death Index.

Historical Newspapers

Think of an event that is part your family history - a birth, high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, death or other event. Then find a local newspaper that was published at the time of the event.

More and more historical newspapers are now indexed by keywords including surnames. So just enter the surname for the year or other date that interests you and search the historical newspaper database.

Church Records

Church records are a good source for death dates and are generally found at the local church or at the denomination's headquarters. For example your ancestor's death record may be at the parish church from which he or she was buried or at the denomination headquarters for that church - Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran or any other denomination.

Church records can sometimes be found at local (for example, the county) genealogical societies and/or at local libraries.

Family Bibles

Bible records are a good source for your ancestor's death dates. They are also very credible sources because the death dates were usually recorded at the time of the death.

Family Bibles are most likely in the possession of one of your ancestor's descendents but sometimes copies or transcriptions of the records can be found online or at local libraries or genealogical societies.

Local Newspaper Indexes

Sometimes you know the year of an ancestor's death but don't know the month or day. Try to find a local newspaper that was published weekly during the year of your ancestor's death.

There may be no index or an available index might not be very complete and so you might need to look at each edition of the newspaper until you find your ancestor''s obituary. A local library might have microfilm copies of the newspapers and it might also have copies of the newspapers online. Check the local library's website to find out what online resources are available.

© 2019 All Rights Reserved.