1. First, go to <www.vitalsearch-ca.com/gen/frmguestpass_v01.htm> and register for a free “guest pass.” You’ll receive a login name and password by e-mail.
2. From the Vitalsearch home page, click on the name of a state with a green check mark in the births, marriages, divorces or deaths column, such as California. After clicking through an ad page, you’ll go to that state’s “portal.” In the box for state-specific data, select the index you want to search — we’ll choose State Death Indices — then hit the Go button.
3. Select a database, such as the 1905 to 1929 California death index, from the resulting menu page. Enter your guest name and password. To start searching this index, you enter a surname and press Begin Search. Some databases let you search on additional fields, including age, date and county.
4. Depending on your selected database, the site will display either search results or — as shown here — an index page. Click “go to page” to view the corresponding microfiche image.
5. The index page lists the images alphabetically, but you’ll likely have to browse to find the right one (note that each time you close an image window, you’ll get a Web page promoting paid memberships). If you find your relative, you can right-click the image to save it to your hard drive (select the Save As or Download to Disk option).