How to Access Records of a Deceased Person

By Patricia Neill - Updated April 12, 2017
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Finding the public records of a deceased person is relatively straightforward now, as many public records are available online. Accessing those records, however, may be more difficult, and at times they have fees attached. If you are the relative of the deceased person, or the executor of his or her estate, your job will be easier. Some documents -- such as birth, marriage and death records -- are all public and accessible for a certain fee; others, such as medical records, may be more difficult to obtain.

Social Security

As you're researching a specific person, use the Social Security number of the deceased person in your searches. If you don’t know it, check the Social Security Administration’s Death Index. To access it you'll have to work through a site such as Ancestry or Genealogy Bank. That may require either a fee or registration, depending on the site. To find the deceased's number in the index, you'll need to know her name, the death date, and the county in which she died.

Public Records

Search the many types of public records available: birth, marriage, death, divorce, deeds and mortgages, professional licenses and voter records. Searchsystems.net and BRB Publications both offer links to thousands of free public-record databases. Either one will allow you to locate many public records. Each will also offer to do the searching for you for a fee, depending on which records you wish to access. Receiving search results for criminal records, bankruptcies, judgments and liens comes with a charge.

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Other Records

Some assets have to be registered in the public records. If the deceased owned real estate, it'll be on file with the county tax assessor and deeds office. Aircraft, boat and car ownership is also on file somewhere.

Medical records may be tougher, depending on your state's laws. If you're the executor of the deceased's estate, or his next of kin, it may be simple to see them. If not, and you're concerned about your family health history, talk to your doctor. She may be able to access the records as part of treating you.

There are other records you may want to research, if they apply: membership in various clubs or groups, professional licensing bodies if he had a license.

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Freedom of Information

If you need government records a simple "please" or searching a government website may turn up what you want. If that doesn't work you may have to file a freedom of information request. All states and the federal government have laws governing the public's right to access records. To file a request, simply writing a letter saying what you want to see. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has instructions online for writing and filing an FOI letter.

Tip

If you're willing to do the work yourself, you'll be able to obtain many records without paying a fee. If you don't have the time, you can pay for the searches or hire a private investigator.

About the Author

Patricia Neill began writing professionally in 2000, spending most of her career as managing editor of “Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.” Neill published political satire at LewRockwell.com and other libertarian websites. She also has an essay in “National Identification Systems: Essays in Opposition." Neill holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Nazareth College of Rochester.

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