How to tell if someone is dead

So I sent a ‘friend’ down to the cellar to verify the authenticity of a nice Amontillado I got through Ebay…

Actually, I have no idea where this friend is. Or friends, rather. Many acquaintances have come and gone over the years, some of them involved in activities that are associated with frighteningly short life spans. I know where some of them live(d), their name, past addresses, etc. But I don’t know where they are now, how to contact them, or how to contact anyone who does know them.

Do I have to go to each state’s department of records and ask individually? Are there national services that do that automatically (for free, preferably)? What about the Social Security Administration? Is there a substantial delay similar to the census?

My morbid curiosity wants to know.

Serious answer: In the US, try the Social Security Death Index, although the person might not be listed there even if he or she is dead.

Joke answer: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.

He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”

Thanks. That seems pretty great–though it also seems limited to legitimate members of society who had some sort of assets (it includes those “whose deaths were reported to the SSA. Often this was done in connection with filing for death benefits by a family member, an attorney, a mortuary, etc.”). Identification aside, I assume there are homeless and low-property people–those without a claim or need to death benefits, insurance, or attorneys–that don’t get updated. Or does everyone eventually go through a mortuary (one that reports, not just one that preps and disposes).
…I also would have taken “well, the gun you gave me had blanks in it, so I made an impromptu garrot to be sure.”

Another site to try is, which operates the obituary sections for many newspaper websites throughout the US. Again, not guaranteed to be comprehensive.

From somewhat of a data geek (me):

It will only have people for whom a Social Security death benefit has been claimed.

The Direct Mail Association (DMA) also keeps its own deceased list of names and addresses that it’s members have reported receiving “deceased” responses to a mailing.

Mortuary Sourced Data
Ten years ago there was an effort to mine data from the Mortuary Industry for a better list of decedents, but to my knowledge this never matured into a data set.

Credit Reports
Bad bad bad source of data for deceased info.
As we used to say in the business…dead people move and dead people buy things.

I’m not dead yet… I’m getting better! Might work if you have a birth date.

Facebook? If you find them posting there, they’re usually alive.

A start would be just to Google the name. This is exactly how I found the death notice for an old acquaintance.

See if they have voted recently in Chicago.

I knew it! You’re all zombies!

Watching thread with interest.
One of my brothers is homeless, and in another state. He has a cell phone, but I don’t know if he has listed me as ICE, or if any of his friends (also homeless) have the means or knowledge to contact me if he died.
We communicate once or twice a month via email. If he dropped off the face of the earth, and our other brother didn’t know what happened, I could contact the shelter where he gets mail. That’s about it.
He doesn’t get any benefits that would be cut off. There will be no obituary.

Incidentally, every human being who ever lived died of exactly the same thing: a lack of oxygen to the brain.

This gets to the core of the question. It’s not so much tracking people down or finding out if they’re alive as it is finding out if they’re dead (not that that wouldn’t be interesting, just a different thread). phxjcc is spot on with the different types of sources, but I was hoping for a nice, single-source place where I could put in Vigoda, Abe and see a list of all the dead Abes (he’s not, by the way).

I guess it just seems weirdly counter-intuitive that it’s not out there. States have an interest in keeping track of people who kick the bucket, and I guess I’ve been taking it for granted that there would be a central clearinghouse for that kind of information. Seems very net 101. Oh well. Good luck Abe!

In Australia (and I think most other commonwealth countries) there are state Births, Deaths and Marriage registries. Even for a homeless person, as long as they can be ID’d when found the state will issue a death certificate and keep it on the registry. Are there really no equivalents for US states?