Tracing Lost Loved Ones

When a loved one passes away, there are often loose ends that need to be tied up. That can include social media accounts that need to be removed or memorialized.


Using the internet can be a great resource. Start with websites like TruthFinder to scour the internet for information on the person you are looking for.

1. Look in Their Desk or Computer Files

If your missing loved one was employed or had a regular business relationship, ask coworkers and others for information. If they were a member of a trade organization, search those records for information as well. If they were involved in a unique situation, such as being found dead of a rare disease or as a result of an accident, local newspapers may have run a story.

Use the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System to add information about your missing loved ones. This powerful database helps law enforcement, medical examiners and families enter data about a missing person. You can also create missing person posters using this free service and post them locally and in the area where they were last seen. This site allows you to include a recent picture and important physical characteristics like age, eye color, tattoos and glasses.

2. Look in Their Home

One of the best resources for finding a missing loved one is often within your own home. If your family members have any information they can offer, do not hesitate to ask them for help in finding the person you are looking for. It is not uncommon for people to lose touch with relatives over time and the information may fade with age. The tips outlined in this ABC News 20/20 story from genealogist Pam Slaton can be extremely helpful for finding long lost relatives.

The article explains how to use social media, mutual friends and the specialised website Trace the Face to track down loved ones who have gone missing.

3. Search Online

The internet is a great tool for finding out information about people, including their death. Begin with a general search by entering the person’s name in quotes and adding a keyword like “death” or “obituary” to get more specific results. Also, search for the person’s city and state of birth and death, if known. This will help narrow your results to only those who passed away in the area.

Another useful way to find out about a lost loved one is to visit a local archive facility, which are typically employed by historians who can sift through official paperwork and public records in order to locate the information you need. This option may take a bit longer than a quick online search, but is often successful when all else fails.

4. Contact Family Members

When a loved one passes away, it’s important to let everyone who knew them that person know about the death. That may be done through a face-to-face meeting, phone call or a written letter. It can also be spread via email to those who live far away, and social media to reach people who may not know your loved one personally but who have a connection with them.

It’s also a good idea to try and contact your loved one’s friends and acquaintances, such as neighbors, former coworkers and schoolmates, their church or social club or membership group. Many times, just calling them during off-peak hours or sending them a text message, which can get through when calls cannot, is enough to make contact.

Online reunion registries can also be useful, such as the International Soundex Reunion Registry and Trace the Face, which is run by the Red Cross. These are free services that allow people to put photos of themselves and those they are looking for, and people who want to find them can search the registry to see if there’s a match.

5. Contact Law Enforcement

In a case where a person is reported missing, be sure to report to the appropriate law enforcement agency. When making the report, make a log of names and phone numbers of those you spoke to as well as any information obtained. Make sure the reporting officer is aware that the missing person is voluntarily absent and not being held against their will. Also, be aware of those seeking to exploit your situation such as psychics and private investigators.

Conduct any notifications in a private place and be prepared for survivors to cry, scream or collapse during the process. React in an empathetic manner, knowing that they may be hostile towards you as a representative of law enforcement.