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The Dallas Morning News

Insight Denton: How do medical investigators find a deceased person's family members?

Denton County death investigators need to notify a deceased person's family members before they release their identity to the public. It's against their policy to do otherwise.

But in the case of Margaret King, a University of North Texas employee and graduate student who died Sept. 14 after being found unconscious on campus, the process can go on for weeks without producing results.

King still hasn't been publicly identified by the medical examiner because they haven't found her family members. UNT coordinated with the medical examiner's office to release the information, in hopes that family members would see her name in the newspaper. But that also proved unsuccessful. 

So, how do medical investigators locate family?

It's more thorough than some might think.

According to Denton chief death investigator Troy Taylor, investigators start by contacting their place of work. They check emergency contacts on their job application and insurance paperwork. They'll also look for family members covered under their insurance. 

If those methods don't work, investigators will search two public databases — LexisNexis and Clear — for previous addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or any other information that could lead to family members. 

They simultaneously coordinate with police to get phone records. Analyzing a call history is another way to find close friends and family, Taylor said. 

Medical investigators have access to hospital records, which also contain emergency contacts and insurance information. 

If none of that works, they'll search criminal history and recent jail bookings. If a person was booked into jail for along period of time, it's likely that family members visited them. Investigators can access that information as well. 

None of these methods proved successful for King — a rare circumstance for investigators, Taylor said. He said it's reasonable to believe she doesn't have any living family members. 

"We have about three or four cases year where we have difficulties," he said. 

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.