Read All About It: Where to Find Obituaries
Generally, major, national, and most large-city newspapers only publish obituaries for the famous, the prominent, or people considered significant. Local newspapers usually publish, often in long-form, an obituary for any local resident upon their death. Smaller newspapers; with town, neighborhood, or religious affiliations; do a more thorough job at chronicling the passing of the citizens of their communities. If the deceased’s town or community has a newspaper, try to contact those publications to see what their obituary policies are. Publications and newsletters put out by community organizations (churches, synagogues, or mosques; local social groups; or local volunteer groups) may also publish obituaries. Obituaries may also be sourced in trade magazines and journals published for many types of professions and occupations.
Traditionally, death notices are printed in local newspapers, national newspapers, and various other publications, such as religious or volunteer organization newsletters. You may find a death notice in the deceased’s hometown paper, as well as in the paper in the city where the person passed away.
Obituaries are usually published in the week following a person’s death, but they can sometimes be published weeks or months afterward, especially in publications printed monthly or less frequently. There are websites that publish obituaries online and may syndicate that obituary in the newspapers of the deceased family’s choice. An index of obituaries that appear in a certain area can help you locate one that was not published immediately after a person’s passing. A “necrology” is a register, or list, of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, or who have died within a certain time frame. They sometimes only contain small obituaries featuring sparse details. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information. Sometimes these lists are compiled into books that can be located in county or public libraries. Genealogical and historical societies sometimes compile these lists and publish them in their periodicals.
For recent obituaries, check to see if the newspaper you’ve located has an online edition. To find online newspapers, try a Google search. The database ProQuest Historical contains newspapers for many major American cities. The Chronicling America website features thousands of digitized local newspapers that you can search for free. The U.S. Newspaper Directory, can help determine exactly what newspapers were being published in an area during a specific time period, and the newspaper’s location if it is not digitized.
Various ethnic and religious groups, as well as immigrant populations, are represented in foreign language papers. For research in ethnic newspapers, use Ethnic Newswatch, which lists periodicals that date from 1990 to the present. There are also Memorial listings to be found for Firefighters and Police Officers such as the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Database, and the Officer Down Memorial Page. The American Medical Association has a Deceased Physician File, 1864-1968, found at FamilySearch.org.
For obituaries from 1990s to present, try the online National Obituary Archive. For a fee, copies of many individual obituaries may be obtained. You will need to know the date of death or the date the newspaper carried the obituary. For help finding a date of death try the Social Security Death Index, which lists deaths occurring after about 1962.
It is also possible to search for obituaries in newspapers that are now defunct. Several historical newspaper databases, such as America’s Historical Newspapers, feature older publications, including many from the colonial era.
Some local community and county libraries contain genealogical departments that own microfilm collections of current newspapers as well as out of print newspapers from their area. If they possess such collections they will customarily have procedures in place to provide copies of obituaries by mail, usually for a fee. If a library can’t help, try contacting the Obituary Look Up Volunteers.
By all means be creative and imaginative in your search for information concerning a family member’s passing. The family tree will be sure to thrive if one digs wide enough to allow the roots to separate and grow.