Friday, March 28, 2014

Helping Out the Police Investigator

I had a phone call yesterday from a police investigator in Ohio, asking for obituary lookups for a couple - let's call them Mr. and Mrs. "Olson" (I'm going to discuss this using fictitious names to "protect the innocent").  The investigator had a death date for both Mr. (in 2007) and Mrs. Olson (in 1987) and thought they had resided in Chula Vista, the city where I reside.  He had obtained my name from the Chula Vista library.  He emailed me with the information he had at my request so that I could ensure accuracy and "officialize" the interaction.

I didn't think to ask why he wanted the obituaries.  My thought was that he might be looking for next-of-kin for some reason - perhaps criminal, civil, or probate reasons.

What would you search first?  Here was my research stream:

1)  Since he wanted obituaries, I checked GenealogyBank first.  It has the San Diego local newspapers from 1868 to the present time.  I tried different surname spellings, different keywords, different year ranges, etc. and could not find any matches for either Mr. or Mrs. Olson, even though I had an exact death date.

2)  I checked the San Diego Union-Tribune ( Archives also, since I am a subscriber to the print edition.  I didn't find anything there either.

3)  I checked the NewspaperARCHIVE also and had no useful results.

4)  Since I had a death date for both Mr. and Mrs. Olson, I was able to find entries in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) on and obtained birth dates.  The SSDI entry for Mrs. Olson indicated that the last benefit was sent to Chula Vista, so that's a clue.  The SSDI entry for Mr. Olson indicated that the last benefit was sent to Oceanside, a city about 45 miles north of Chula Vista.  I recommended that the detective contact an Oceanside local library for help with an obituary.

5)  I checked Google for both names and death years, thinking that it might provide a short circuit to an online obituary.  It didn't.

6)  On, I checked for Mr. Olson now that I knew a birth date and death date.  I found two entries in the 1993-1994 time frame for him in Chula Vista.  Now I knew that he had lived in Chula Vista.

7)  A search on Ancestry for Mrs. Olson's name and death date found a California Death Index entry that said she was born in Ohio, and gave her maiden surname and her mother's maiden surname.  It also found a burial at the local National Cemetery.  A suggested record gave me a U.S. Veteran's Gravestone application that indicated she was interred 9 years after her death.  I suggested that the investigator contact the cemetery for more information.

8)  Knowing Mrs. Olson's maiden surname, I search for possible children in the California Birth Index on Ancestry, and was rewarded with four children born in San Diego County in the 1949-1955 time period.  A search for them resulted in marriage records for the two daughters, but not the two sons.  So we know the married surnames for the daughters and their husbands' names, assuming there were no divorces and remarriages.

9)  A search for each child's name revealed that one of the sons resided in 1990 at one of the addresses in Chula Vista that Mr. Olson resided at in 1993.  That sort of increased my confidence that things were coming together.

10)  A search on found one of the sons and the husband of one of the daughters residing in Chula Vista with addresses and phone numbers.  On, the listing for the son in Chula Vista names Mr. and Mrs. Olson as possible relatives.

11)  I searched for Mrs. Olson using her maiden name on and found her birth family but not much else besides 1920 to 1940 census records and the burial records, including one on Find A Grave.  I searched for Mr. Olson too and only found census records, the military enlistment and the Public Records Index entries.  There was no Find A Grave entry for him.  There were no Public Member Trees for Mr. Olson with his birth year or Mrs. Olson with her maiden name and birth year.

12)  I could check the San Diego City Directories if necessary online or at the library, or search the Chula Vista local newspaper at the library to find an obituary for Mrs. Olson, and offered to do that if necessary.

All of this took about two hours to perform, and I was able to forward it to the investigator within five hours of his email request.  What I found should enable him to be able to contact some of the next-of-kin for whatever purpose he wants to pursue.  

Some people may ask - how does the issue of privacy affect this study?  It really doesn't, since I've used publicly available and searchable databases (either free or on subscription or at a public library) to obtain everything above.  A police or licensed private investigator has access to more advanced search engines and databases (see CVGS Program Review - "Finding the Living, and Maybe the Dead" for examples).

What other resources would you have used?  Have you done investigations like this for the police?

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Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Michigan Girl said...

Interesting post Randy. I've never done a search like this for a law enforcement agency who has contacted me. But, being a retired law enforcement officer, I certainly conducted many searches for people.
The only other site I would have used in your search would be I have had great success locating cousins using that site.
Thanks for sharing.

Chris said...

Did the police officer happen to mention if he had called the San Diego Public Library?

Yesterday the librarian got off the telephone and asked me if I knew a Randy Seaver. She said somebody was looking for Randy Seaver to look up an obit. She had told the caller that she had never heard of Randy Seaver.

ps. She is not a genealogist.

Linda Herrick Swisher said...

I would also check the Obituary Daily Times site for both names, which, if listed, give the name & date of the paper.

Geolover said...

How did you know this person was employed by a police agency, rather than being a private investigator?

Would you treat such inquiries differently according to the person's employment status?