Tracing Lost Loved Ones

Reminders of a deceased loved one can trigger painful emotions and rekindle grief. They can also inspire new connections with others to keep their memory alive.


Tracing experts are the unsung heroes behind heart-wrenching narratives that span continents. With determination as their compass, they dive into a labyrinth of information and connect the dots from public records to social media.

Gathering Critical Information

A missing loved one can have a profoundly negative impact on family members. Most will continue to search until they receive authoritative and reliable information on their location or fate.

The Return Home Registry will provide police officers with critical information about your loved one. It will allow them to quickly and easily identify a lost individual or connect them with their care givers.

Before NamUs, families searching for a missing loved one would have to call every coroner and medical examiner in the country, which is both time-consuming and expensive. It can also lead to false exhilarations, such as seeing someone on the street who looks like your loved one. Now, these searches can be made much more efficient and effective thanks to NamUs.

Checking Social Media Accounts

When people die, their social media accounts can continue to receive messages, friend requests and likes. They may also remain active in online forums. Many sites allow friends and family to remove a loved one’s account or memorialize their page after death. Each company has different rules and requirements, including documentation such as a copy of the death certificate.

Some people report that their deceased loved ones send signs through number patterns, such as recurring phone numbers or common “angel” numbers, such as 11:47. Others find comfort in calling their dead loved ones or texting them to say goodbye. The dead are also believed to move or take things, especially objects that were very special to them in life. Then, they might return them later.

Checking Online Directories

Directories offer quick snapshots of businesses, and provide users with a way to quickly find what they are looking for. As such, they can be a good source of information to help you track down loved ones who may have moved to a different city or state.

You might also notice signs that a deceased loved one is trying to reach out to you by noticing things like favorite earrings or keys going missing only to appear back in the same place later. They might also try to catch your attention by repeating numbers or using other symbols that hold special meaning to you and them.

If your church has an online directory program, you might consider adding a “In Loving Memory” or “All Saints” page for those members who have passed within a certain time frame (say the last year) or continue to include them for as long as they wish.

Checking With the Probate Court

It’s not uncommon for family members to lose contact with each other over the years. Even if you aren’t close, sometimes just knowing how your loved one ended up can make you feel better about missing them.

Probate courts are where you can find important documents, like wills and estate inventories. These are important to know when looking for a lost loved one because they can give you information on property, heirs and relationships.

You can search online for the county in which your loved one died, or plug their name into a probate court database. Some websites charge a fee for this service, but it’s worth it. The other option is hiring an investigator to unobtrusively learn more about your loved ones’ whereabouts, and how best to reach them.

Checking with Financial Institutions

If the deceased had a bank account, credit agencies and other financial institutions need to be informed of their death. This will help to keep identity thieves from opening new accounts in the deceased’s name. You may need to present a certified copy of the death certificate to these institutions.

It’s also worth reaching out to the deceased’s employer and checking online databases for life insurance policies and retirement benefits that were unclaimed upon their passing. These funds can go to the state if they aren’t claimed within a certain amount of time, so taking action is important.

You should also check if they had a safe deposit box, which could contain assets like cash, jewelry and bonds. The laws regarding who can access these boxes vary by state.

Checking With the Local News

When someone dies, local news is the first place that people turn. Local media is also the place where people can find information on urgent health and safety emergencies, the environment, the people and processes of local government, and daily social services like education, healthcare and transportation.

Look for your loved one in the local newspaper’s obituaries, and visit sites like Google News Archives and the US News Archives to search for past obituaries. It may be helpful to have a name and a date of death to narrow your search.

Reach out to friends and family members who knew your missing loved ones, and ask them to spread the word about their disappearance. Consider contacting your loved ones’ church, school, employer, community group, senior center, union, or fraternal organization to let them know.

Taking Action

Even if you can’t reconnect with your loved one, finding out how things turned out for them may help you find some closure. You might also use the information you gather to build a legacy that honors their memory. This could include setting up a charity or campaign in their name, volunteering for a cause they supported, or simply continuing to do the things they enjoyed (like watching sports or listening to music) on their behalf.

Be creative in your search and don’t give up. Consider calling people and places where your loved one is well known — neighbors, workplaces, school/university, religious institutions, social clubs/centers, unions and fraternal organizations, etc. You can also try using online platforms (like CaringBridge, Facebook or LotsaHelpingHands) to spread the word about your loved one’s death.