Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Paper trails can be hard to find, but Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
Even when there are no clues to be found about a person's life, you can usually find tax or census records and you can almost always find some record of death. If you know the exact place of death or burial, most towns provide copies of death or burial certificates, but it will cost you at least $10 per record, assuming you know the approximate date of death. When you are researching a family tree, that can get pricey! It is also quite time consuming. You can try the resources on my Vital Records page to find the date of death.
Today, cremation is a popular alternative to the traditional burial, and people aren't always buried in a cemetery anymore. Cremated remains can be placed in an urn and kept on a shelf or placed in a mausoleum, but back back in the old days most people were buried in a cemetery plot in the ground. Some are marked with headstones and some are not, but most cemeteries, local historians, and/or churches have records somewhere. If there is no burial record, you will need to try to get a copy of the death certificate from the town or county clerk's office.
You can also try to find obituaries in newspapers - there are millions online now (click here to see), but here I'll share the places I look to find cemetery records.
There are also some old magazine publications and books that have published church records, transcriptions of tombstones and epitaphs. They can be hard to find but I have posted some in the past. Search my site for the name of the town or the cemetery and see what you come up with