How to find out if somebody in the UK has died

How to find out if somebody in the UK has died

by Jon Crawford2023-12-130

When a family member or a close friend dies, chances are you will be one of the first people to know. There are, however, circumstances when this might not be the case and also situations when you may need to know if somebody you are not in regular contact with has died.

This guide will help explain how to find this information by searching death records in the UK and where you can find specific obituaries and funeral notices. It will explain how using free search tools, such as social media platforms, can be combined with specialised sites and also how to find and search official death records in the UK.

When might you need to find out if someone has died?

  • To find out funeral details and send condolences
  • To help inform others of the death of an acquaintance
  • To help inform others of the death of an acquaintance
  • For financial and legal reasons regarding wills and inheritance
  • In property matters, a landlord may need to confirm if a tenant has died 
  • If you have an estranged family member, or in the case of missing persons
  • For closure and emotional reasons

When might you need to find an obituary for a specific person?

There is of course overlap from the situations when you may need to find out if an individual has died, obituaries can serve to provide even more information about a person’s life. 

Here are some scenarios when you might need to search for a specific obituary in the UK.

  • To find out funeral times and arrangements
  • Funeral planning - more information may be needed about the person’s life to create commemorative material and tributes for the ceremony
  • Genealogical research into family heritage and lesser-known family members
  • Public announcement or media articles: people with a public profile or notable contributions to society may have their obituaries published for public awareness.
  • For academic and sociological research

Whatever the reason you need to find a death record or obituary, remember to go about the process respectfully and with sensitivity. Deaths of loved ones, even long ago, can carry painful memories and emotions for some people that they may not care to remember. 

This is especially the case if they are contacted ‘out of the blue’ in regard to somebody close to them who has died, albeit a long time in the past.

Finding out if somebody has died in the UK

If you need to know if somebody has died and you are in contact with any of their close friends or relatives, it is possible they might be able to tell you. Use your discretion when taking this personal approach, however. You could call them if you have their phone number or look them up on social media.

A first step - online search engines and social media

As a starting point when you need to find out if somebody has died, simply use Google or your preferred browser to perform a basic internet search. 

Start with the person’s name and place of residence if known and add the words “death” or “obituary”. If there has been any publicly accessible news published online this could yield the result you need. However, most deaths will not make the news, and some platforms that publish death and obituary notices operate on a subscription/paywall basis.

Another way to find out information regarding a person’s death can be social media. For many people looking for information about their family and friends, it’s a first port of call. The open nature of social media makes it a good place to start looking and finding out the details you need without any cost. 

When somebody passes away, it’s common for their friends and relatives to post tributes on their profile page. News spreads quickly on social media, especially emotive announcements like a bereavement. This means it can be a reliable way of finding out if somebody has died and the information will probably be available on social platforms before making it to other websites.

It’s increasingly common in our digital age for a surviving acquaintance of the deceased to “manage” their digital legacy after death. 

If the person who you think may have died did not have a presence on social media you may still be able to find out the details you need.

If you know any of their immediate family members’ or close friends’ names go to their profiles and scroll through the posts there. If the death is recent they may mention it.

Similarly, if you know where a person worked, their employer may post a tribute or message on their social media profiles. This can be another place to search.

Check local newspaper archives and online announcements

If a Google and social media search has yielded no results and you cannot contact the deceased’s close acquaintances, you can search specific online newspaper sites and archives in the person’s hometown. 

This approach needs certain details to be most effective. Such as:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Their place of residence at their death
  • The general time period in which they may have died
  • Which local publications their obituary or death notice may have been published in

Smaller, local newspapers will often publish obituaries of residents from the area. They also publish death announcements and funeral notices in their classified sections. This is a popular service that funeral directors often manage for their clients. 

Most local papers now make death announcements available to search online, which is a good first step in finding the information that you need. Many local newspapers have also partnered with national obituary sites to make finding announcements easier.

If you cannot find the information online, then it might be possible to visit a local library where archive copies of the newspaper are kept and these may often go back further into the past. This can be useful if you are searching for a death or obituary that occurred or was published long ago.

If the person was a member of any clubs, societies or religious communities, you could also try finding them online and seeing if they have made any announcements about their passing on their own websites or social media channels. For example, if the person was a regular churchgoer, contacting the minister of their church would be a good step to take in finding out if they have died.

Search local funeral director’s websites for tributes

When you are looking for information on whether somebody has died or trying to find a specific obituary, it’s also a good idea to check any funeral director’s websites in the hometown of the person you are looking for. 

Most funeral directors now have their own online tribute section where you will find obituaries and shared memories of people who have recently passed away. Usually you can search by name and results will go back a few years. These services are useful, because you will not need to register for any kind of account to search through the obituaries online.

Online obituaries on funeral director’s websites will often contain details of the funeral arrangements too, presuming the death is recent and that it is a public funeral.

Here at Fenix we have our own Memorial Pages where our customers can post tributes to their loved ones, sharing precious memories and keeping their memory alive in spirit. You can search our memorial pages by name if you are searching for the obituary of somebody you know.

Using online obituary sites

There are many online platforms dedicated to publishing obituary and death notices in the UK. The best of these sites will have links to local newspapers all across the UK as well as to charity sites that also publish obituaries. You can search by name, area and publication.It varies from site to site, but the most popular obituary and death notice platforms in the UK usually charge the person who places the notice a fee, but it is free to search their obituary databases. 

Most funeral directors around the UK will have an account with one or more of these platforms and will place notices for their clients as part of the funeral package, meaning there is a good chance of finding the details you need, especially if the death is fairly recent.

This also of course means that if you are looking for funeral details of somebody you know who has died recently, they are a great place to look.

If you find the obituary you are looking for, you will be able to post your own tribute or memorial and even make a donation in their memory on many of these sites.

Tips for searching online obituary sites effectively

Specify UK locations

When conducting searches, use specific UK locations to narrow down results. Many platforms allow filtering by regions or cities. If you don’t know the city but just the county, that should still be ok.

Use advanced search filters

Take advantage of the advanced search filters provided by online obituary platforms. These may include options to filter results by date, location, or specific details personal about the deceased. The more information you have the better.

Engage with Condolence Features

Explore and engage with additional features such as leaving condolences, sharing memories, and contributing to virtual memorial spaces. You might find a tribute or memorial in a section other than the standard obituary area. Some sites have special Christmas memorial messages, for example, where people will pay tribute to those who died in past years.

Privacy settings 

Respect the privacy preferences set by families. Some obituary platforms allow families to choose the level of visibility for the memorial, ranging from public access available to all to restricted access for family or certain groups only.

Watch out for charges and account requirements

Be aware of any account requirements for full access to the obituary databases. Some platforms may require you to create an account to access certain features or view specific obituaries. Also, be aware that some may charge for in-depth services.

How to use public records in the UK to find a death

If you need to find out whether somebody has died and searching social media and obituary sites has yielded no results, there are still options to help you find the information you are looking for. Public records go back much further in time than online announcement sites, so you will probably have more luck in tracking down a historic death by using them.

Can you search official death records online in the UK?

It is possible to search death records online, and there are numerous ways to do it, using a variety of sites and databases.

To find very recent deaths, however, social media, obituary and funeral announcement sites and newspapers will be more reliable. The official online databases are very useful for more historic deaths but will not be completely up to date. 

As a starting point for a successful search you ideally need:

  • Full name of the deceased person you need to find
  • Date of birth if known
  • Place of death if known

The more details you have about the person, the more likely it is that you will be able to locate the record of their death.

There are numerous websites that will let you search death records in the UK, but most will require you to register with them to actually see the results. Some offer a free service but others charge a monthly subscription fee. Make sure to be aware of the terms of each site when you are signing up to avoid unexpected charges.

What information do death records contain in the UK?

Death records in the UK contain more information than just the date, place and cause of death. Alongside this basic information, they also contain the deceased person’s occupation. Death records for children will also contain the names of their parents.

Searching death records in the UK will also show the information about the person who registered the death. You will be able to learn the following details:

  • The name of the person who registered the death 
  • Their place of residence 
  • Their relationship to the deceased 
  • The date of registration
  • The registrar who processed the record.

Are death records the same as death certificates?

No. They are two distinct documents, though they are of course closely related. 

A death record is the official document that registers the essential information about a person's death. Their name, date of death, place of death, and other key details.

A death certificate is a legal document that contains more details about the circumstances of a person’s death and is required to carry out processes such as estate settlement and claiming life insurance.

Where can death records be found and requested in the UK?

Death records are kept in local council and parish office archives and also at the General Record Office (GRO).

Searching the GRO for information about a recent death 

It takes time for deaths registered at local offices to be added to the collection in the GRO. For this reason, if you are searching for a record of a death that has occurred within the last six months, you should contact the local office in the deceased’s hometown as they will have the information.

More about the General Records Office (GRO) and death records 

The GRO is based in Southport and is the custodian of millions of death records for England and Wales. There are separate offices for Northern Ireland and Scotland. 

The England and Wales GRO online index contains death records from 1837 to 1957, and 1984 up to two years ago. 

Their website states that records of more recent deaths than this are not held by the GRO and must be obtained from local registry offices.

Each death record is given an index reference number - or IRN - and if you can find this by searching for the record online, it will save you money when ordering a copy of the required record or certificate. 

How much does it cost to order a death certificate in the UK?

The cost to order a death certificate/record online from the GRO with an IRN is £11, whereas if you cannot provide an IRN, the cost is £14 and it will take 9 days longer to receive the document.

There are also express services available which can get you the documents you need in 1-2 working days for an additional charge.

You can search the GRO index online for free once you create an account. Once you have found the record and reference number, you can order a copy online, by telephone or with a postal form. Note that ordering online is the cheapest way and that telephone and postal applications cost £15 with an IRN and £18 without.

Alternative ways to search the GRO index

Among the various platforms online that offer searches for genealogy research and other public records, allows you to connect to the GRO index and you can find the IRN number you need for a specific record here too. It is a free project run by volunteers who are working to port the information from the GRO to this site.

Alternatively, a complete set of GRO Indexes is available in microfiche format to view free of charge at:

  • Bridgend Local and Family History Centre
  • City of Westminster Archives Centre
  • Manchester Central Library
  • Newcastle City Library
  • Plymouth Central Library
  • The British Library
  • The Library of Birmingham

Other commercial websites also provide access to the GRO index, but most will charge for this service. The only site that the GRO website endorses is

Using genealogy and family research sites to find older deaths

In recent years as public records and historical documents have been digitised and are readily available online, there has been an explosion of interest into tracing family history.

A quick online search for ‘death records’ or similar terms will bring up many results of sites promising comprehensive searches of a multitude of public record archives all over the globe.

Such sites can be useful if you are looking for information about a death further into the past, but they will not help you find more recent death announcements and records.

Most sites will allow you to search but require you to create at least a login and account before viewing the records. Others charge a monthly subscription fee.

If you are serious about researching your family history and are willing to pay then they can undoubtedly prove useful. Alongside death records - some have access to the GRO index - such sites may also offer:

  • Digital cremation and burial records
  • Digital scans of cremation and burial registers
  • Photographs of graves and memorials
  • Cemetery maps showing grave locations
  • Other occupants in the same grave

If you subscribe to one of these services you are paying for the convenience of having central access to multiple registers and archives. For example, burial records in the UK are public and may be searched, whereas cremation records are not compiled into a central database. 

You would have to contact local crematoria in the area where the deceased lived if you wanted to find out if they had been cremated, unless you use a commercial site that works with the crematoria to make the data accessible.

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Frequently asked questions

Start with a simple online search using the person's name and terms like "death" or "obituary." Social media and local newspaper archives are also good sources.
Having the full name, place of residence at death, and approximate time of death can help narrow down your search.
Check local funeral directors' websites, as many have tribute sections with obituaries.
Yes, public records are a valuable resource, especially for historic deaths. These records are searchable online through various databases.
They include the deceased's name, date and place of death, the person's occupation, and the name of the person who registered the death.

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