Yes, you read that right – the Dead People Server. This is a personal project started back in 1994 by Laurie Mann, who apparently has a passion for tracking dead people. These are not just ordinary people, though. The Dead People Server contains a list of over 3,800 noteworthy individuals who have passed on, along with a bit of information about each. The important part is that the information is actually trustworthy and verified; you can think of it kind of like “Snopes for dead people”. Let’s take a stroll through this virtual graveyard.
The Front Page
The whole site is quite text-heavy, and does feature some adverts here and there, but nothing too intrusive or disrespectful. In general, the author sets a pleasant, casual tone that does something to lighten the morbid subject matter.
The explanation is not short, but you really should read it. It underscores the fact that the Dead People Server is not a government service, and is under no obligation to list everyone (or even everyone who makes it into some fixed category). The author lists people she considers interesting, but does publish certain guidelines to show who she generally considers interesting, along with a long list of categories for people she does not consider interesting:
These categories are very subjective, but by refusing to list criminals, I feel the author manages to distance herself from sordid crime journalism. Basically, she doesn’t glorify people who killed other people, which I very much agree with. The rest of the list is at times political, and at other times simply controversial (what’s “not interesting” about comic book creators?). Still, it’s nice to have an idea about who might make it in, and who probably won’t.
Now let’s see how we can find out if someone has really passed on or not, when, and under what circumstances.
Searching & Browsing
There are three main ways to browse the site and look for records. You can do a free-text search, browse by year, and browse by last name. The text search isn’t only by name. For example, this is what came up when I searched for Apple:
As you can see, there’s also a bit of information surrounding Steve Jobs’s life and death, which we’ll look at later (I will pick a different person, though – perhaps something not as recent). Now let’s take a quick look at both browsing pages (by year and by last name):
This is the year page for 1985. It is arranged by month, with very few people in every month (April has none, for example). Each person has a brief biography, as well as links to more information if available (such as Carol Wayne’s IMDB page).
Browsing by last name looks like this:
Here you can see two other link types – one goes to the person’s obituary, while the other leads to Find A Grave, a site that lets you search 27 million cemetery records to find a person’s last resting place.
Since the site is obviously a personal project and a labor of love, not all profiles are the same. Here is a notable example:
Note the differences in length and detail for Natasha Richardson vs. Irving R. Levine above. Still, even the longer profile is written succinctly and informatively, and contains only facts.
The Rumor Page
Speaking of facts, reliability is the most important asset the site boasts. After all, if you decide to include people only based on subjective categories, you had better make sure to provide exact information for those you do include. Sometimes rumors spread around celebrities who are not well, or who haven’t made a public appearance in a while.
The Rumors page lists information about a long list of celebrities and notable people who have been reported as dead, but are actually alive. The page also lists people who have been incorrectly rumored to be dead but have since actually died, and includes those in a separate section with a brief history of the rumor itself, as well as the actual death.
The Dead People Server is not a cheerful website, nor is it one I would routinely follow for fun. It does appear to be a reliable information source. Also, I cannot help but admire its author for the persistence and obvious care for detail put into the site over so many years. Few websites founded in 1994 are still so actively maintained.
Are there other important information projects you’d like us to cover? And what do you think about the Dead People Server? A totally morbid idea or an indispensable source of information?
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