Sometimes you can find good clues to vital statistics in obituaries, although one must be cautious. My own parents’ published obituaries had minor errors because the family was not thinking clearly at the funeral home. I suspect that is the case with many death notices. Still, the parents and progeny were correct, even if some other particulars were not.
Go to Cyndi’s List and look at the Deaths (http://www.cyndislist.com/deaths.htm) page for a good round-up of sites that specialize in obituaries.
Once you have a place and year of death from an obituary, if your ancestor died in the 20th century, you should look at the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) as a more reliable source for data. This is public record, and you can search it for free at http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/. The results will give you the official birth date, death date, where the Social Security number was issued (usually the place of residence at the time), and where the last payment was made (usually the place of death at the time).
With this information, you can use the state’s vital statistics department to get a copy of birth and death certificates, which are primary sources.
Other sites with SSDI lookup are:
· FamilySearch.org has a page specifically for the SSDI at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/search/ssdi/search_ssdi.asp
· Genealogy.com (home of Family Tree Maker) offers the SSDI for free, but only as part of their Internet Family Finder search. The advantage is searching many resources at once, but the disadvantage is the over-abundance of results to week through. You also can’t search without the last name.
· GenealogyBank.com (access is free at many libraries) has over 84 million records – updated weekly, a quite good source for recent deaths.
· NEHGS – Social Security Death Index Free Access at http://www.newenglandancestors.org/research/Database/ss/default.asp For finding someone who died recently, this free Social Security Death Index search offered at NewEnglandAncestors.org is also very good.
· Railroad Retirement Board at http://www.rrb.gov/mep/genealogy.asp is the place to look if your ancestor worked for a railroad company and covered by the Railroad Retirement Act (after 1936).
· Searching the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) in One Step at http://stevemorse.org/ssdi/ssdi.html. Steve Morse has created a practical search form which augments the search logic of many of the free SSDI search engines on the Web. You can choose which of several SSDI databases to search. This easiest SSDI search interface available, and a favorite of mine.