We posted this on the GYA blog at
GYA Writer Heather Rayne Geyer added: I have done this (well, started – it is a hard job, especially if you don’t want to pay money to do it like me). First, I checked with the SS Death Index. I got some dates of birth, dates of death, birthplaces and places of death (I think). But that is only if the person collected SSI.
is helpful to a point without subscribing, and just using Google to search for some names is helpful. This is how I found out where my grandfather was buried in California and where he worked at one time.
For relatives who came to America, you can try
which is free. You can also find census records on the Web.
I then went to local cemeteries and went into the office and they helped me look up names to see if they were buried there. If so, I went to the grave sites which often gave middle names and exact dates of birth and death. You might also find relatives you didn’t know you had if, for example, there is a family plot or you find same last names buried next to one another (this happened to me).