But where do you search for them?
Before you begin it is important to understand a few things:
1. While obituaries are commonplace now, they weren’t commonplace in newspapers until the early to mid-1800s—depending upon the paper.
2. In the beginning, only the death of a “Somebody” made the newspaper. If the person you seek was poor, you might not find his or her death in the paper.
3. Historically, obituaries weren’t the only sources of information about a person’s death. There was also the death notice, which was a short announcement about a death perhaps with funeral arrangements, and the card of thanks. The card of thanks was placed in the paper by the deceased’s family as an acknowledgement of the assistance and encouragement received from friends and neighbors.
Now, where do you find them?
Generally, you will find obituaries in a newspaper. However, they were also printed in funeral programs provided by the mortuary, genealogical or historical society publications, and other places. Thankfully, there are plenty of online locations to begin the search for an obituary. Remember, indexes are your friends that can point you to the actual obituary in a more efficient manner. Some are even FREE:
- Google-search the county or town of the deceased + “obituary index” to find indexes which may be locally held. Depending on the area, there may be a LOT of these.
- FamilySearch has an obituary index that links to GenealogyBank’s database of 1980 - 2014 obituaries.
- The Obituary Daily Times is a volunteer driven index containing over 13 million obituaries!
Once you find the obit via an index, The LOC’s Chronicling America can tell you which repositories hold the newspaper (usually on microfilm or fiche) you seek.
For-fee online sites which hold newspaper images include Ancestry.com, GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, and others.