How death records OSINT can help in genealogy research

From grave finders to genealogy records and obituaries, this article reveals how researching the dead will lead to a watershed of data about the living

How death records OSINT can help in genealogy research. Article cover.

In the realm of open-source intelligence (OSINT), delving into the histories of the deceased can yield valuable insights into the lives of the living. Despite being an often overlooked aspect of OSINT investigations, resources related to deceased individuals offer a wealth of information waiting to be explored. This article aims to shed light on the abundance of resources available for researching the deceased and their connections, thereby enhancing OSINT investigations.

There are three types of OSINT for researching the dead: Grave Finders, Genealogy Records, and Obituaries.

1 - Grave Finders

Graves throughout the world are photographed and uploaded to Grave Finder databases. I recommend starting here. A photo of a grave (or whatever other form of physical remembrance of the dead) provides the most important and basic information needed for searching other OSINT sources (name, dates of birth and death).

The grave photo is also a very reliable proof of death and confirming of correct name spelling and dates of birth/death. It is easy to imagine a name being mispelt on a government document and left to sit in an archive or database for years. Not so easy to imagine that for a gravestone.

Find A Grave ( is the world's largest repository of grave site information. The site is free and easy to use. An alternative resource is Billion Graves (, which is very similar but has a heavier focus on photos. For this article we will just use Find A Grave.

The tool focuses on finding actual graves (hence the name) rather than death records. It also uses a lot of crowdsourced data.

There are MANY enthusiasts that search for graves and upload their information and often photos to source. And if the information you are looking for is not available, you can even submit a general request for someone to look for the grave of interest. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is actually much more difficult to find graves that are NOT documented by this tool.

The search function in the actual Find A Grave website has a lot of options for additional information you can add into your search to narrow down the results.

For example, as you see in the search function below, you can even choose to search by burial plot information. That might seem like an obscure bit of information, but many records will identify the specific plot or cemetery section. Based on that information, you can search for relatives by looking for grave sites next to the first one, or for grave sites within the same section of the cemetery, possibly filtered for people with the same last name. 

Below is a standard example of the kinds of information that might be available in a particular record. The initial record provides

Screenshot of record from showing a photo of a gravestone and a list of data on the deceased, including the time and location of their birth, death, and burial.

The photo shows a standard headstone listing name, dates of birth and death, and the engraving "Beloved Husband, Father & Grandfather", revealing that he had a spouse, and at least one child and grandchild.

Photo shows gravestone with the text: "James Richard, Husband, Father, and Grandfather. Born June 19th, 1930 and Died February 9th, 2006

The record also has information from the mortuary showing locations of birth, death, and burial as well as parents and siblings.

Screenshot of record from shwing information on a deceased person, including a list of their family members and a list of data on the deceased, including the time and location of their birth, death, and burial.

The gravesite information is especially important because it gives us the kind of details we need to narrow down our results when we search for the person in genealogy records and obituaries. If we search for James Blum there will be a lot of hits but if one of the records mentions a brother named "Robert", we know it is referring to the right guy.

2 - Genealogy Records

By using genealogy data we can build on whatever we learned from the grave site and find links to additional records. Genealogy websites also provide a means to link information about a dead person to records on living people.

Family Search ( a free resource and one of the best tools for genealogy research. (Another free genealogy resource is Family Tree Now ( but has very limited data compared to Family Search.

Going to Family Search you will need to sign up for a free account and then you are ready to go. There are several search options available but for our purpose you will go to the homepage, click on "Search" and then in the drop down menu click on "Records".

Screenshot of showing the location of the Search button and the dropdown menu showing the location of the Records button

The search function is straightforward, you have to search a name (no phones or emails) and then add in other details to narrow down your results. Specifically, you can add in family members, dates and places of birth, residence, marriage, death.

Here we take a random example and start with a grave stone, found in Find A Grave, that lists name, dates of birth and death, and location of burial for a deceased person.

Photo of gravestone that identifies a deceased person named Brendan Kiser McCall, born on January 30th 1985 and died on December 24th 2005

We search that information in Family Search and find a death record. This record has no additional information but on the website automatically identified additional records for the possibly same person (see on the right side under "Similar Records"). It is also possible to manually search for additional records that show the same or similar name, date of birth, etc.

Screenshot from showing information from a death record on Brendan K McCall, including on his name, the State in the United States where he resided, and the dates of his birth and death.

Clicking on one of the linked records pulls up a marriage registration identifying a spouse as well as date and location of the wedding. It appears they may have flown to Las Vegas to get married.

Screenshot from showing a marriage registration identifying Brendan Mccall's spouse as well as date and location of the wedding.

Another record shows the person's extended network of family, friends, and pastor.

Screenshot from showing a list of names of Brendan Kiser Mccall's immediate and extended family.

If we had been originally interested in one of the dead person's living family members, we would now have discovered their extended family network. Each person on the list can be linked to records about themselves and their own connections. Therefore we could essentially go down limitless rabbit holes.

3 - Obituaries

Obituaries have their own kinds of unique information. In addition to the person's name and date of birth/death, obituaries should include some form of biography and references to family members.

Short Biography: where they grew up, what they studied in school, the different places they lived, different jobs, hobbies and interests, when and where they got married, and more of a human element in general.

Family Members: watch for the phrase “is survived by…” which precedes a list of living family members that will include locations.

Here is are some example segments from real obituaries:

is survived by his two daughters: Tammy (Anderson) Ackerman (husband Wayne), of Rapid City, South Dakota, and Lenore (Anderson) Famiano (husband Michael) of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He is also survived by four grandchildren: Shauna (Hansen) Schroeder, Cuno J. Hansen, Gianni Famiano and Giuliana Famiano; eight great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews in …
...he grew up on the family farm with his sister, Rosemary, in Nashwauk until 1952 when he left to serve in the US Army during the Korean War until 1954. He married Peggy E. Martin in June 1956; graduated in 1958 with a BA in Accounting and Business Administration from University of MN, Duluth.
...a move to Contra Costa County, California in 1958 to put down roots and raise a family was the start of a new adventure. Jim embarked on a career as a real estate appraiser for the county, then for the Veteran's Administration, then for the National Park Service. After retiring from the NPS, he continued his passion for real estate as an independent appraiser

The best resources for finding obituaries are Legacy (, Google Newspaper Archive ( and the Internet Archive ( I recommend using all three of them.

Legacy ( searches a wide variety of online and print sources. An example search below shows obituaries from "The Neptune Society of Northern California - Walnut Creek", "Kjentvet-Smith Funeral Home" and "the Westville, NJ chapter of the Associated National Cremation Services".

Even in cases where you could use a google search to find the obituary, it is still better to use Legacy because it filters out any results that are not obituaries and it parses the data in a way that makes searching easier.

A typical search presents results as follows:

Screenshot of search results of obituaries from searching in, includes three search results that include the name, photo, and short description of the deceased. The search results also list the publication where the obituaries were published.

The Google Newspaper Archive ( and the Internet Archive ( will search through massive archives of scanned paper editions of local newspapers and other periodicals that do not have online editions. In both cases the scanned records have Optical Character Recognition, meaning that you can do a keyword search for the contents. These two resources are so useful that I recommend doing a name search in them regardless of the target, living or dead.

The Google Newspaper Archive is simple, just go to the url and search. In the example from the screenshot below I searched the name "James Paul Blum". It did not find the obituary but did find an obscure article mentioning the individual's honeymoon.

Screenshot from the Google Newspaper Archive, showing a search for the name "James Paul Blum, and the search result appears below and shows a scanned copy of an old newspaper from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette from 1968 and a section of the scanned newspaper is highlighted. The highlighted section is the title of an article that reads "James Blums Honeymoon in Bahamas"

For the Internet Archive, its worth noting that many people think it is synonymous with the Wayback Machine, an archive of scanned websites from various dates, which is actually just one of its archive databases.

See screenshot of, you want to use the search function in the center as opposed to the Wayback Machine search on top. Before you search, make sure to click on "Search text contents" below the search function. The default is to search only metadata.

Screenshot from homepage of showing a one search function with the title Wayback Machine and a second search function that appears under the sentence "Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more." Below the second search function is a list of items with empty circles next to all of them except one. There is a blue circle, representing that the item has been clicked on. This item in the list reads "Search text contents".

Searching "James Paul Blum" also did not find an obituary but did find that he was listed in a college periodical revealing that he graduated from Loyal University Law School.

Screenshot of a search result in, the screenshot shows that a search was run searching the name "James Paul Blum" and the search result appears on the screen as well. The search result is a scanned version of a page that lists several names, one of the names is highlighted, it is the name "James Paul Blum". The screenshot shows that the search result is identified as the Law School Bulletin of Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana.


The exploration of death-related resources within the realm of OSINT opens up new avenues for researchers seeking to uncover valuable insights. From grave finders to genealogy records and obituaries, these resources provide a rich tapestry of information that can deepen our understanding of individuals and their networks. By harnessing the power of these tools ethically and responsibly, OSINT practitioners can navigate the intricate web of human connections and histories, ultimately enriching their investigative endeavors. As we continue to delve into the depths of open-source intelligence, let us not overlook the invaluable contributions that the study of the deceased can offer in unraveling the mysteries of the living.