Tracing Lost Loved Ones

Reminders of a lost loved one can trigger painful emotions, including the anniversary of their death, holidays and new events they would have attended. They can also appear in sights, sounds and smells.


The ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency is part of a network that works around the world to help people separated from their families. Here are some tips to help you find your missing loved ones.

Social media

Social media has become an increasingly important tool in the lives of many people. It provides a platform to connect with friends and family around the world, share photos, recount stories, and provide support during grief. However, when a loved one passes away, social media can be a difficult and distressing place to work through grief. Often, grieving is done in private, but that can be challenging when there are multiple family members online.

Fortunately, most social media platforms allow users to memorialize an account after death. This allows their memory to remain online while keeping the account active and preventing hackers from gaining access. In addition, some websites have specific pages for mourners to pay their respects and remember the deceased.

Whether or not you decide to use a social media page for your loved one, be sure to consult with your family and friends before posting anything on their behalf. It is also important to consider how the deceased person lived their life when making this decision. If they were a loud and extroverted social media user, maybe a public page isn’t the best choice for them.

Public records

Public records can be a valuable tool when it comes to tracing lost loved ones. From arrest reports to lawsuits filed decades ago, these documents are often accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a search engine. However, finding the right public records for your needs can be difficult. For example, you may not want to read the details of a drug overdose death. While this information isn’t always available to the general public, it can still be useful for law enforcement or collections agencies.

Another great way to find a long-lost relative is by conducting personal interviews. While this approach can be time-consuming, it can yield helpful information that you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. For instance, a close friend or colleague may be aware that your family member died and can point you in the right direction for expanding your search.

If you’re searching for someone who died in recent years, it may be best to start with their social security death record. Depending on their age when they died, this could provide important information about their life and relationships. For older deaths, try to check local newspapers for obituaries or a news website that has historical archives. If they were a part of a religious community, you may also be able to find their funeral details online or at the church’s website.

Classified death notices

A classified death notice is an announcement of a loved one’s passing published in a newspaper. Families write and submit these, and they usually run within days or weeks of the person’s death. The announcement typically includes a photo of the deceased, their full name (including maiden names), and where donations can be made in memory of them.

Unlike an obituary, which is a longer written piece that may include details about the deceased’s life, classified death notices are short and provide only need-to-know information. In addition to announcing the death, they typically list where the funeral will be held and other relevant details.

As a result, they can be a helpful resource for finding out more about an ancestor’s life, and if you can verify the information with other sources, they can also serve as secondary evidence in your family history research. However, searching old newspapers for obituaries is not always the best approach. Instead, look for them in a variety of areas: Social Notes, Classified Ads, and even under the main headlines.

Often, people who publish a death notice will also post an obituary on their website or social media page, and this can be another place to find more information. Alternatively, you can create your own memorial website with Ever Loved in just minutes to share your loved one’s story with friends and family.

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) provides a platform for the sharing of information on missing persons and unidentified decedent cases across the United States. This database is free and available to medical examiners, coroners, police officers, victims’ advocates, and members of the public. NamUs can be accessed online and searches can be made by name, date of death, or body part.

The NamUs database has been a shot in the arm for many investigators. However, it hasn’t been used as widely as it could be. Unidentified bodies are usually newsworthy, and local professional media outlets and social media resources are often eager to circulate the information. These efforts can lead to a positive outcome, but more often they don’t.

In addition to a database, NamUs also includes a website that allows the public to search for missing and unidentified persons cases. However, the federal site has several limitations that limit its usefulness. For example, the search function prioritizes text over pictures and requires multiple clicks to access the collection of photographs or artist renderings. Despite these limitations, the database has been very useful and has helped to solve hundreds of cases.

NFSTC began working on the development of NamUs in 2007 under a cooperative agreement with NIJ. The organization was involved in the IHIA and DOJ OVC-sponsored meetings that led to the decision to develop a new unified reporting system for missing and unidentified persons. NFSTC staff then participated in the planning and strategy sessions that shaped the development of NamUs.