This study focuses on crack identification in beams from vibration measurements using principles of dynamic state estimation. The FEM is used to model the beam with cracked-beam elements that account for the presence of an edge crack under near-tip elasto-plastic conditions. The crack size and its location are treated as the variables that are identified using a particle filter algorithm. A parametric study is first carried out with synthetic measurements to numerically analyze the performance of the algorithm. Subsequently, using measurements acquired from physical experiments involving a cantilever beam subjected to arbitrary excitations, the proposed algorithm is used to identify the size and location of crack-like defects. The proposed method does not require measurements of the undamaged beam, hence, can be used for crack identification in beams for which no earlier measurements are available. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.