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How I Used the Social Security Death Index and GenealogyBank to locate an obituary in minutes

With a little creativity and database know-how, locating the obituary of Virginia Brown was pretty simple. And just in case my grandmother, also named Virginia Brown, is reading this - I'm talking about my other Virginia Brown relative - not you.

First, here's what I know about Virginia Angeline Brown:

  • She is my 1/2 3rd cousin twice removed (Legacy's Set Relationships tool made this easy)
  • Born April 5, 1922 in Saint Louis County, Minnesota
  • Daughter of Benjamin Franklin Brown and Nettie Mae Lutz

One of the envelopes waiting for me at the post office yesterday (after a 2 week mail-hold for our cruise) was from the Minnesota Historical Society. What a great way to return to real life! In it was a copy of her father's 1958 obituary I requested, which listed "Miss Virginia Brown" as one of his survivors. She would have been 36 years old by this time and unmarried.

Social Security Death Index

Wanting to locate her whereabouts, I began with the Social Security Death Index at Ancestry. It is also available at:

For a side-by-side comparison of the different SSDI databases, click here.

Search #1

I searched for Virginia Brown with a birth year of 1922.


There were no matches.

Search #2

Next I took off her given name and just used her surname, but added her exact date of birth.


This returned 31 hits, meaning, 31 Browns who were born on April 5, 1922. None looked promising, and there were not any Jenny Browns either. I was surprised the first time I heard my grandfather call my grandmother "Jenny." So I was sure to search for these other variations too.

Search #3

Next I searched for only the given name of Virginia along with the exact birth date.


This returned 43 hits and if she were listed in this database with her given name of Virginia, she had to be one of these 43. This is assuming that she had died. One of the hits was for a Virginia A. Schipper, born April 5, 1922 and died April 21, 2010 in Duluth, Saint Louis County, Minnesota. Obviously the location stood out to me.


Wanting to learn more about Virginia Schipper, I next turned to GenealogyBank to see if they had obituaries for 2010 in Duluth. I started by browsing their Historical Newspaper titles, but unfortunately only 1887-1922 was covered for Duluth newspapers. Then I browsed the Newspaper Obituaries collection which says it contains obituaries from 1977 to the present. I wasn't sure how comprehensive it was so I took a look at their titles for Duluth. Fortunately the Duluth News Tribune was included for the years 1995 to the present.


After entering her name and clicking Begin Search, I was presented with one result. Its title was "Virginia Angeline (Brown) Schipper" published on April 23, 2010 in Duluth. It listed her parents as B. Franklin Brown and Nettie Lutz and matched the birth date and place I had.

Thanks to a little creativity with the Social Security Death Index search and my membership to GenealogyBank (disclosure: I have a free subscription from them, but oh how I love their site!) I was able to find Virginia Brown's obituary in a matter of minutes. The sad part was the obituary stated that she had lived in both Duluth and Sun City, Arizona. Sun City is minutes from where I live. I wonder if we ever crossed paths?

...the next day while writing this article...

As an afterthought, I wanted to see if the Duluth News Tribune had a website of their own. Maybe they would have more than just a transcription of the obituary. I located their website at, clicked on the obituaries link, and clicked on the Browse By Date link. I selected April 23, 2010 and located the same transcription. But it also had a color photograph of Virginia. What a great find!


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Thanks for a great step by step on your process! That's very helpful!

Good point on the value of belonging to sites other then Ancestry. Good detective work, we all strive for that.

This contains some excellent information. When I read the side by side comparison of different websites with SSDIs however, I couldn't help but wonder why the genealogy community has so many multiples. We would all be better served if the different entities worked on different record sets and had some sort of sharing policy among them. The duplication of effort is frustrating when there are so many unexplored records.

Not having many "good" experiences in searching records, I'm always asking how others do their searches. Your step-by-step instructions in this article are exactly what I need. They're AWESOME!!! Thanks so much for them! Can we get more? (Illustrating other search examples.)

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