How do I track down a death certificate?
February 10, 2015 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I recently found out that a friend from back in my college days died eleven years ago, but I can't figure out where, or what happened, just a date. How can I find more information?

I heard a rumor that a guy I was friends with in college, and who dated a relative of mine for some time, had died. Googling him brought up his fairly distinctive full name, his accurate birthdate, and a death date from 2004, but no other information. Just that single piece of information, presumably scraped from somewhere, repeated everywhere.

I have no idea where he ended up, or what happened to him. How can I find out more?

Things I've tried:

* I signed up for a paid membership to But I can't find anything more than the googled sites give me, just a death date. When I try filling out's form to order a death certificate, it requires you enter the county of death, and I have no clue.

* No mutual friends know what happened; trying to trace the rumor back has failed. He was estranged from his family due to their homophobia.

* I know at least one city where he lived after we lost touch, but have no time frame.

* One of the only results on google that wasn't a death date, was a line in a brochure from a Michigan hospital. It mentions a donation "In memory of [fairly distinctive name]", but is from years after 2004. In case he died in that hospital, I tried ordering a death certificate using that Michigan county, but that county returned the check and said it wasn't them.

What else can I do? I still have the account active, but if it's not going to be any further use, I'd like to cancel it, as I don't have any need for an ongoing subscription. I assume there would also be non-internet ways to go about it, but I really don't know where I would even start.

Are there investigators who specialize in this sort of question, who would have access to tools/services I don't? I can't afford a lot of money, but I would be willing to spend a bit, at least to try and get more information for my relative, who was very close to him at one time.
posted by theatro to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Michigan state vital records, at ?
posted by easily confused at 1:45 PM on February 10, 2015

Your best bet is going to be his family. Even if they were estranged, they're still going to know more about it than you currently do. They may not have everything you want but they'll know something, enough to get you started.

Do NOT bring up sexual orientation, either his or your own.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2015

You're likely not going to be able to get a death certificate, as those are generally only available to family members until a protracted time has passed.

There may be a news item on your friend. If you want to memail me, I have access to a number of newspaper databases, and I'd be happy to do a search to see if there is an obit or a mention of death.
posted by maxsparber at 1:54 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, your question got me curious and I found this database which goes by the social security database. It then links to, which you already have an account with. I used my Grandpa for the search since he also has a distinctive name. Maybe that will help?
posted by patheral at 2:42 PM on February 10, 2015

You can't get a death certificate most likely. Here is an example of how one state handles death certificates, for example. Your best bet is going to be family/friends and local newspapers around the time he died. Even if he was not living at/near home there may have been an obit in the local paper depending on the level of estrangement from his family. You can do gravesite searches if he has a distinctive name and might be able to get some luck there if he was buried, much less likely if not. Maybe facebook chat some people who may have mutually known you to see if they have any more information? It's possible that the donation at the Michigan hospital was from a family member and that might help you track down surviving family if you wanted to contact them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:02 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn: You can't get a death certificate most likely.

Oh, interesting, and thanks for the link--I hadn't known about the "tangible interest" specifics. I hadn't thought about that, but I assume it makes sense, identity-theft-wise (although I admit, I wouldn't have thought death certificates had quite the same identity-theft risks as birth certificates).

easily confused, thanks for the Michigan site--it again seems to require a county, and buried in the fine print seem to be similar restrictions on who can order a death certificate. But it's good to know about.

patheral, get this--your link actually provided me with what appears to be my friend's retired Social Security number! Wow. So, no further on the 'what happened' question, but at least another data point (even if that feels a little weird to be so freely available).

Chocolate Pickle, yeah, I think as you and Jessamyn say, personal networking looks like the road to take. That and local papers. Unfortunately I don't know his family at all; I think I know where they used to live, but not their names or anything else about them. It seems there's more Facebooking to be done, friends and fellow alumni and whatnot.

maxsparber, I've memailed you, in case the newspaper dbs might turn anything up. Thanks for the offer!
posted by theatro at 3:36 PM on February 10, 2015

check your memail, I've got a suggestion
posted by easily confused at 4:36 PM on February 10, 2015

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