Tracing Lost Loved Ones

Reminders of a loved one’s disappearance can trigger painful emotions. Tracing experts help reunite family members and close the gaps in their memories.


Searching for assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts may also be helpful. These can be found through probate courts and online databases like MIB and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Search Social Media Accounts

Facebook and Instagram allow users to close or memorialize their account after someone dies. To memorialize an account, you must provide proof of death, such as a link to the person’s obituary or a photo of them. A memorialized account can still be accessed by friends and family, but the person cannot log in.

This can prevent people with bad intentions from accessing the deceased’s account, and it also saves the loved ones who are grieving time and emotional energy when relaying information to their wider network. It can also prevent them from being bombarded with calls and texts at a time when they are already trying to handle a wide range of tasks.

Search Online Directories

Online directories are another excellent resource for finding long-lost loved ones. You can search for people by name, phone number, or other identifiers. You can also look for obituary records and other public information sources.

If you’re searching for a lost relative, it’s important to start with as much information as possible. This includes their full name, nicknames, and any other identifying details you have.

It’s a good idea to follow your ancestors through census records and city directories. This can help you narrow down their death date and find out where they’re buried. You can also search for them on genealogy sites. You can also set up Google alerts to receive notifications when they’re mentioned online.

Search Online Newspapers

Newspapers can be a great tool for genealogical researchers. You can search for a missing loved one using their name, date of death, and location.

It’s best to start your search broadly and narrow your search as you find results. You can also try searching for nicknames, alternative names, or initials, since ancestors were often referred to by these names in their obituaries.

You can also search newspapers that serve a particular social demographic. These include Jewish or Catholic papers, black papers, Spanish-language papers, and more. These newspapers can provide information that may be overlooked in the more general newspapers. They can also offer insight into the culture of the time period when your ancestor lived.

Search Local Newspapers

Newspapers can contain a wealth of family information within notices of births, marriages and deaths (obituaries) as well as local news. Many historical newspapers have been digitized and are available online for searching.

You can also search for your ancestor’s obituary by visiting a library in the place where they died. Libraries usually subscribe to local and regional newspapers, often on microfilm that can be viewed in-person. Start by searching for the person’s name and location where they lived, then gradually broaden your search filters. This can be a time-consuming process but can be rewarding. It may also help you uncover other family news, such as the fact that an ancestor left behind children.

Search Classified Death Notices

There are many ways to let people know that a loved one has passed away but the most formal announcement is to place a death notice or an obituary.

Both are paid advertisements and run in newspapers and online. Death notices are short notices that detail just the essential information, such as a person’s full name, maiden name if applicable, where and when they died, details about funeral or memorial services, and how donations can be made.

Obituaries are longer profiles meant to not only inform the public of someone’s passing but also to celebrate their life and accomplishments. They often include incisive anecdotes and reflections. They are usually published by family members or close friends.

Search Local Trade Organizations

The ICRC works around the world to protect and restore family links, search for missing persons, and clarify their fate and whereabouts. This work is known as Restoring Family Links (RFL). National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are at the heart of this network.

If your loved one has been displaced due to a mass-casualty incident, it is worth trying to find them through the organization they are involved with (such as their workplace, community organizations, places of worship, clubs, fraternal or service organizations). It may also help to check social media sites and see if they have left a ‘safe and well’ message. You can also search local trade organizations’ membership databases.

Create a Missing Person Poster

Missing person posters are crucial in getting your loved ones’ photo and vital details out to the public. Using platforms that allow you to create missing person posters easily, you can get the word out quickly.

Typical missing person posters use the mugshot image of the missing person with essential information like appearance, height and weight, and when they were last seen. Other important information to include is whether they have body tattoos, scars or other identification marks that may make them easily recognizable. You can also include a reward in the poster to encourage people to help find your lost loved one. Be sure to distribute the posters widely in print and online.

Contact the Police

A missing person report should be filed with police as soon as possible. Provide a current photo of the person, as well as specific information about their clothing and other physical descriptors such as scars, birthmarks and tattoos.

Consider establishing an online presence to allow tipsters to volunteer information. However, police caution that family members should not vet tips themselves and should funnel them directly to the appropriate authorities.

It may be helpful to hire a private investigator to assist with the search. Investigators can uncover clues that the average person would not think to look for, such as financial documents like bank and credit card statements. They can also unobtrusively search rooms and vehicles without contaminating the evidence.