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Feb 04

How can I find out if someone has died?

Posted on Tuesday 4th February 2014

If you've lost contact with someone who was close to you, especially someone who was prone to poor physical or mental health, or approaching old age, the most painful part of the process of finding that person again is discovering if they are still alive.

Unfortunately, sometimes the reunion story you were hoping for doesn't materialise, and it can be very hard to deal with this. It's usually less difficult for all parties concerned if you find out whether they are still alive ahead of time, rather than pitching up on a doorstep or making a phone call out of the blue. For that reason, we created this guide to help you find what we hope is good news quickly and cleanly.

Prepare Yourself

Before you even think about looking, make sure you're prepared for the worst news. How would you handle it? If you think learning that your old friend or family member had died would be traumatic or damaging to your mental health, it might be a good idea to avoid searching for them until you're mentally strong enough.

You should also think about secondary events. If you found out that your old friend was due to be buried, how would you react if you wanted to go to the funeral but the family didn't want you there? What if they're still alive, but don't want to speak to you?

If you think these sorts of events might make you confrontational, defensive or extremely upset, consider the implications of performing this sort of search very carefully before you begin. Remember that if your friend has died, it will have been hard for everyone they knew. Be prepared to be extremely sensitive.

Waiting for his return Photo by: Jessica Lucia

Simple Search

Searching for your friend using a search engine may turn up evidence that they are still alive. Simply entering your friend's name into Google or Bing is not likely to work too well, unless they have a particularly unusual name, but if you can add bits of information about them – their career, their friends, and their family – you can home in on useful information.

Using simple search, you might be able to find local news articles, industry newsletters, personal blog posts or articles written for their company, and social media accounts. Any one of these might help you find out if they're alive quickly and easily.

Advanced Services

If simple search doesn't turn up any clues, consider using a service like Peopletracer, where you can also find out whether someone has died between the years 1976 to 2006. Type their name and address details into the Deaths search and our databases will be able to narrow down any possible death certificates that match the details of your friend or relative, to within a five-year window.

Alternatively, you could use the Peopletracer site to attempt to prove that they are still alive. If you can find evidence that they were on the electoral roll in 2013, you have good evidence that they are still alive. If you think they might have died more recently than that, you'll need to take further action.

Manual Search

If you think a relative or close friend might have become sick or passed away quite recently, the first step should be to find your local registry office. The local registry office, which you can find from the directgov site based on the last known address of your friend, should be able to tell you if anyone of that name has died recently.

Alternatively, the Police may choose to get involved if you can argue that there is a significant risk to your friend's welfare. It is also worth getting in touch with any hospitals in the area, and adult social services.

What Next?

If you cannot find any trace of your friend or relative, it could be the case that they have changed their name. If this is the case, unfortunately, the trail may have gone cold, and unless the name change was related to marriage, it is likely that they do not wish to be found by people from their past, sad though that may be. If you think that the name change may be a result of a marriage, try our marriages search to see if this brings up the details you need.

If you've found that your friend or relative is alive, keep in mind that they might be confused by a direct approach especially in real life – they might not even recognise you. Getting in touch by post or by phone is a much less dramatic and confrontational way of arranging a meeting, and it gives them the ability to decide whether or not they do want to meet you, without putting pressure on them.

Whatever the outcome, the information from all these sources should help you to be prepared and ready. We wish you the best of luck on your search, and extend our sympathies if the worst has happened.