Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Excerpt from How to Write a Dick: Historical Investigations – Traveling Back in Time

Posted by Writing PIs on May 27, 2011

Private investigators sometimes specialize in historical research, typically for cases involving genealogy research or environmental investigations.  An investigator’s research might include meticulous reviews of such documents as census records, archives of newspapers, old city directories, special collections housed at libraries, obituaries, birth and death certificates and probate records. Fortunately, many of these records are becoming available online.

Genealogical Research

The following websites offer comprehensive research into family histories. offers links to census records, immigration records, photos, maps, old school yearbooks and more. claims it has the largest repository of military records, including draft registrations, pension records and service records. It offers a free 14-day trial membership. provides offers links to newspaper and obiturary archives, death notices, funeral arrangements and more.  Some libraries also contain hard copies of obituaries. is a service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and offers a network of nearly five thousand facilities all over the world that offer public access to genealogical records. collaborates with hundreds of newspapers in North America, Europe and Austrailia and features obituaries and guestbooks for more than two-thirds of the people who die in the U.S. is a volunteer-driven site that lists free genealogical websites throughout counties and states in the U.S.

Some genealogists also work as private investigators. If your story involves extensive historical research, we suggest you contact The Association of Professional Genealogists. Look up a genealogist in your region who specializes in the era you’re writing about, and request an interview to help you flesh out your story.


Besides offering resources for historical research, libraries sometimes house special collections. For example, the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy, has a vast section on genealogy, including the ability to search its obituary and funeral notice indices. Don’t forget specialized libraries such as historical museums, university medical libraries, law school libraries and business school libraries, which also offer special collections. As private investigators we’ve learned that sometimes our best investigative tool is the reference librarian.


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