Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Federal Dead List - FOIA Request

Let's be honest.  If you are a professional genealogist or a serious family researcher how many Freedom of Information Act requests have you generated? The a3Genealogy teams average about 25 (or more) a month from one agency or another. Every a3Gen Team uses FOIA requests - the Military, the Lineage, Dual Citizenship, DNA (Ingenes), Forensic / Private Investigator, and the Special Brickwall teams. Researchers are usually quite familiar with the FBI files from 1908 (more effective beginning around 1920) to present. Many have even uncovered FBI files from or other subscription databases.

You people don't know about the 
FBI RIDs Dead Lists?  

But, when I mentioned the FBI Record Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) Dead Lists the group confessed they were not familiar with it. Then it came to my attention that many did not understand how FOIA requests work. What research tools are generated from our FOIA requests?

FOIA Request FlowChart
Do you have an interesting ancestor who may have caught the eye of the F.B.I.? One Norweigen client had an interesting "public figure" ancestor living in Minnesota. It was interesting to compare her obituary to that in her FBI file.  Be sure to read the NPR piece: Finding FBI Files of the Dead.  Note: My ancestors were clearly under-achievers.

The FBI Record Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) Dead Lists is comprised of a list of people the FBI "understands" are deceased. Basically, the FBI (and other government agencies) creates records while processing day to day operations. So, investigative files and personnel files create a chain of records and indices on the "subject."  Early records can be located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, Archives II) in College Park, MD. Researchers may find more recent indices published online by year. For example, the 2015 Dead List may be found on

Researchers may also request information on an individual on the List by making a FOIA request to:
FBI RIDSAttn: Freedom of Information Act
170 Marcel Dr
Winchester, VA. 22602
Of course as with all FOIA Requests, proof of death (i.e. obituary) is needed. Remember these are the FBI RID's Dead List files.  So your subject has already been proven dead. Also, remember these files can be voluminous. One of our Philippine War Soldiers request, originally created by a military and Veteran's Administration FOIA, produced a file of over 600 pages. An issue carried on by his descendants had drawn the spying eye of the FBI. Keep in mind that just because the subject is deceased, his file may continue. In this case, the file was created and continued for decades.Yet, much was learned (or supposed) of his life. The NPR piece above notes the issue of "accuracy" in some of the files and reports, but for genealogists, we use this resource to guide us to primary sources and further research.

What Might You Find?
Often I will do a location search (i.e. Kansas City), or code search  ("LCN" or "Pearl Harbor," or Civil Rights") for group topics.  Those who warrant an FBI file are most often infamous, or famous, or possibly or suspected to have engaged in activities that may have be against the state. (Did I use enough caveats there?) However, researchers will find compiled data on the subject. It may include newspaper clippings, interviews, or other source cited background information. It also may include speculation. In many cases, there are associated court cases that can be pulled for additional information.

1. Name Changes

Several years back, the Dual Citizenship team was working on not one, but two, unrelated Italian Dual Citizenship applications. One was from the mid-west the second was east-coast. Both were seemingly dead-ends. Where was grandpa?  It was through entries in the FBI RIDs Dead Lists Index that began the brickwalls to tumble. Not one, but both of our clients, with no known relation or association with each other, were descendants of members of La Costa Nostra (LCN) which is commonly tied to the Sicilian Mafia.

The clients' La Cosa Nostra ancestors not only were noted on the Dead Lists, but aliases names were proffered. Voila! Although eliminated from dual citizenship eligibility, at least family history was learned.

2. In Depth Topical Research

All the time in the world can't replace the research conducted and compiled by the FBI Records held in The Vault. Two years ago while researching for a Civil Rights documentary for one of the History Channel's pieces, we needed more information on our subject. There was not a direct file on the subject that we could locate, but we learned much about him via Claudia Jones' FBI file held in The Vault. Through The Vault, which many records are scanned and online, we were able to use the compiled (yes partially redacted) files that gave us both leads and hints to primary sources on our subject.

3. Association Research
We were successful again when working for the media with "Gangster Era" files  from the 1940's. Our subject was not indexed, but we tied our research to one who was more prominent, yet working and residing in the same circles, to find historical details on an actor's ancestors.

Other Access to FBI Deceased Identification Files
The U. S., F.B.I. Deceased Criminal Identification Files, 1971-1994 is also on  Again researchers can extract birthplace, death date, and perhaps a note on crime. This information offers researchers where to look next. At a3Genealogy we use this database mostly for our forensic research projects when needed.

Additional Resources
The Black Vault, FBI RIDs Dead List (2016, partial 2019)

Have fun during this time of "stay-at-home" to enjoy learning new repositories and resources.
Stay healthy and safe!

Kathleen Brandt

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