How can I find out if an online friend has died?
June 9, 2009 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I believe an online friend may have died, but I am not sure. I know relatively few details, but I am wondering if there is some sort of obituary or death record search I could use to confirm my suspicion.

He lived in Massachusetts and his name was Matt. He was somewhere between 18-24 years of age, and I believe he may have died at the beginning of May. He suddenly disappeared and stopped responding to emails, which is very unlike him.

I found Rootsweb in a previous post, but I don't know enough information for it to be of use. If anyone knows another place to search, it would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
posted by liesbyomission to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know anything about the things he really enjoyed doing? Names of any family members? They might be mentioned in an obituary, which would help with a Google search for one.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:51 PM on June 9, 2009

Got a city? County? Local papers post Death Notices, how many Matt /Matthews can there be in the date range you think is when he could have passed?
posted by Freedomboy at 4:52 PM on June 9, 2009

Best answer: If you use the search at, and choose by Newspaper on the right hand side, you can search the available Massachusetts newspapers one at a time (there aren't that many), using just the criteria of First Name = Matthew. There is even the option to enter keywords if you know any.
posted by LightMayo at 5:00 PM on June 9, 2009

It's quite a leap to go from "doesn't answer emails" to "he's dead."

What other clues do you have supporting your theory that he's dead? Maybe if you could determine the cause of death (like, say, suicide) it would be easier to discover if he's dead.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:01 PM on June 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Search the social networking sites (myspace, facebook, etc.) for his email address; if he has a profile there, there may be comments from real-life friends noting the death.
posted by bac at 5:01 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Calm down; it's far more likely he can no longer get internet access or his computer is down than, "ZOMG! He's dead!"

If you have any contacts that also list him in their social network, see if they have alternate email addresses for him. Try contacting him through them or doing as bac suggests; you may also have to consider the alternative that he simply does not wish to correspond with you any longer.
posted by misha at 5:30 PM on June 9, 2009

Is the email account bouncing? Is it a personal domain? You could do a whois on it.

You do realize, concern aside, this will get creepy real quick, right? I don't want to question your definition of "friend," but people often provide the information they are comfortable providing. That more than a first name was not offered in this case makes me question how badly he wants outed.

If I assumed every person that didn't respond to my inquires were dead, there would be a lot more dead people.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:31 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just looked through a ton of MA papers (big and small in cities big and small, journals) using newsbank and nothing matched your description. Perhaps he just dropped off the grid, went on vacation, got sick of being in your online circle, or, got a girlfriend.
posted by furious at 6:12 PM on June 9, 2009

Ask for advice at the Fake Livejournal Deaths community. Even if he wasn't a member of that site, those people are scarily dedicated to investigating deaths online. I bet they can tell you where to start.
posted by madforplaid at 7:16 PM on June 9, 2009

The Social Security Death Index is probably what you want, but there's a bit of a lag in updating the records (it currently doesn't seem to have any data for April or May of this year, for example).
posted by stefanie at 7:54 PM on June 9, 2009

Check with your local public library (or university library if you're associated with one, etc.) to see whether you'd have access to Factiva or LexisNexis through them (may require an in-person visit to the library). Either gives advanced searching capabilities for thousands of newspapers, including limitations by locations, etc.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:22 PM on June 9, 2009

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