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In Search Of ...California Birth and Death Records, Social Security Death Index, Vital Records, Obituaries, Genealogy sites, Gravesites/Burial Locations, Newspapers, more.

Last updated: January 9, 2019

One of the great things about the Internet is locating information sources ... and where that info is archived, and how to obtain that data.  A lot of data is available through government agencies that are required to provide that info under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Dennis Landadio, who wrote several Three Mesquiteers film reviews on the Old Corral, is a Bob Livingston fan.  Dennis was searching for Livingston info, and found the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) at  That led to a request to the Social Security Administration for a copy of the original application that Livingston prepared and signed on December 4, 1936.

Above is the December 4, 1936 application for ROBERT EDGAR RANDALL, screen name of ROBERT (BOB) LIVINGSTON of Three Mesquiteers fame.  It shows his birthdate as December 8, 1904; his employer is listed as Republic Pictures, Inc., North Hollywood, California; and his father and mother's name are shown as Edgar O. Randall and Lillian Livingston Langdon.  Apparently he adopted his mother's name (Livingston) for his screen moniker.

In the upper right corner (smudged and difficult to make out, even on the copy I have) are some special instructions from Randall/Livingston which reads:

"Following information to be held strictly confidential - if you please.  Thanks.  R. L."

Some years ago, I obtained a copy of Victor Daniels' death certificate from the Ventura County Recorder (in California).  That death certificate had his social security number listed, and I requested info from the Social Security Administration under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). A copy of Daniels' January 12, 1937 application is above, and it shows his employer as RKO ... and he lists himself as Cherokee and born in Arizona.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI):

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a record of approximately 65 million deaths called the Death Master file and it is in a tape format which is NOT searchable by the public. It is available for purchase by companies and genealogy sites from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service.

However, several genealogy websites purchase a copy of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and periodic updates, and make it available on the Internet for free searches.  I believe that the current routine is for the funeral directors to report ALL deaths to the Social Security Administration.  However, in the "old days", I believe the rule was to notify Social Security only when the family filed for the Social Security Death Benefit (this is the burial allowance which is currently about $250.00).

Following are websites which offer free searches of the SSDI. Most have an info page which describes what is and what isn't contained in the SSDI. You may want to read that disclaimer in order to understand the limitations of the SSDI database. Also be aware that these websites have different versions (dates) of the SSDI --- i.e., some update more frequently and have more current info than others.

Stephen P. Morse's SSDI in One Step gives you access to multiple free SSDI searches:

Family Search has census, birth, death, World War II draft registrations, more. To access info on Family Search, you must be a registered user ... and the service is free and they don't spam you:

Family Search SSDI includes records beginning in 1962:

GenealogyBank is a subscription service, but they provide free searches of the SSDI:

Tom Alciere's Free Search of the SSDI: and

Searching the SSDI ... and obtaining a copy of an individual's Social Security Application:

The SSDI searches can be frustrating, and you need to be aware of the limitations.  And remember that a person may NOT be in the database IF the family did not file for the Social Security Death Benefit.  You also need to know the person's real name.  Bob Livingston and Chief Thunder Cloud are two good examples:

Go to one of the SSDI websites, and enter the Social Security number for Livingston/Randall into the "search" box.  There should be a record for him. Note that the record is for a "Robert Randall", not Bob Livingston - so if you were searching for the names Robert Livingston or Bob Livingston, you wouldn't find the correct record.

Do the same Social Security number search for Daniels / Chief Thunder Cloud.  No match ... no record ... apparently no one filed for the burial benefit so he is not listed (even though he did have a SS number and is deceased).

Since Dennis Landadio and I knew the Social Security numbers of both Livingston and Chief Thunder Cloud, it was quite easy to get the above copies of their Social Security applications. If you know the SS Number, you can prepare a simple request letter, enclose a check/money order, and in a few months, the copy should arrive in the mail. You can also do an online order and pay with a credit card. The fee for obtaining copies of Social Security applications are in the $20.00-$30.00 range.

More on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and obtaining copies of a Social Security Application can be found at the Social Security website:

California Birth and Death Records databases:

The State of California has an extensive database of birth and death records and that information can be searched for free at FamilySearch (after you establish a free user account):

One bit of info relating to this State of California Death Index - on some records, a Social Security number is listed, and if you click on that, you might also find a record on the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). However, you also may get a 'record not found'. The reason for the 'record not found' on the SSDI is that at the time of death 1) no one filed a burial claim with Social Security, or 2) the death occurred long before the SSDI was begun, or 3) there may be an error in the Social Security number in the California Death Index vs. the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Just remember that the California Death Index database includes MORE people than on the California portion of the SSDI.

World War II Casualties:

The U.S. Veterans Administration has a search to locate burial locations of Military veterans. Their website notes: "Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker. The Nationwide Gravesite Locator includes burial records from many sources. These sources provide varied data; some searches may contain less information than others. Information on veterans buried in private cemeteries was collected for the purpose of furnishing government grave markers, and we do not have information available for burials prior to 1997."

VA gravesite locator webpage:

The National Archives has a listing of World War II casualties and the following links are for military personnel from California:

War Casualties from World War II for Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Personnel FROM CALIFORNIA:

World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel FROM CALIFORNIA:

How & Where to Locate/Obtain Vital Records:

Vital Records Info By State (at USGenWeb site)
Search Ellis Island Immigrant Records

Genealogy Websites:

There are many, but following are genealogy sites with links to others:

RootsWeb's WorldConnect Project - people search
US GenWeb Project
Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Web
Joe Beine's Online Searchable Death Indexes for the USA

Obituaries and death notices - Online Sources:

I know of no free online sources of obituaries covering Hollywood personalities going back 25-75 years ago. You may have some success using the free Google newspaper archive though it is limited as to the quantity of newspapers that are available. Below are several websites which include death and obituary information on 'famous people'.

alt.obituaries newsgroup on Google
Google Newspaper Archive
Wikipedia - Recent Deaths (covers years from 1986-current)
Tom B.'s Western Boothill blog recent obituaries
New York Times newspaper obituaries
Los Angeles Times newspaper obituaries obitfinder
UK Telegraph Site obituaries
Independent Company UK obituaries

There are also several websites which have obituary info or "In Memorium" info on entertainment personalities and other notable persons:

Walter Breitzke's Noted Nonagenarians and Centenarians
Who's Alive and Who's Dead
Celebrity Death Beeper

Gravesites & Grave Locations:

Find A Grave website
Billion Graves website
Interment Net has info on a variety of interment locations/gravesites
Hollywood Underground (last updated in 2011)
Seeing Stars in Hollywood website - Burial Locations
Gravehunter (last updated in 2005)
Beneath Los Angeles

Newspapers and Hollywood trade publications:

Newspapers have always been a great source of info on people.  Alas, the online editions of these papers have several problems: many provide free access to some stories, but require payment for access to their 'archives'; many of their 'archives' only go back five or ten years.

Google Newspaper archive
Library of Congress newspaper archive
Wikipedia - list of online newspaper archives
Hollywood Reporter

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