Finding That Elusive Relative--- Obituary Research ? Why Use Obituaries

Finding That Elusive Relative--- Obituary Research
Why Use Obituaries?
An obituary is a published or unpublished death announcement. A
particular obituary may be a simple two-line death notice or an
elaborate biography of the deceased. They can provide a wealth of
information and help you learn more about your ancestor.
1. Name of your ancestor. Sometimes they are listed by just
initials. Now keep in mind that this will not always be the full legal
name, so consider it a secondary source for the name.
2. The date, time and place where the person was buried. Again a
secondary source because you can't be sure who turned in the
3. Date and place of birth, and date and place of death. A
secondary source for above-stated reasons.
4. Surviving relatives. This is the goldmine you are searching for. Although it can't be
considered a primary source because of the above-stated reasons, it will list the "known"
surviving relatives (at least the ones the informant remembered at the time) and their
relationship to the deceased.
5. Dead relatives. Often the obituary will include the names of the deceased spouses or
children that passed before them.
Obituaries are usually printed in a funeral program, a newspaper or in a local history.
Recently, funeral homes have published the obituary online along with a memorial page.
Sources for Obituaries
Obituaries weren’t commonly published until the 1800s. In Colonial times,
usually only death notices were published in newspapers.
Obituaries have only been specifically indexed online for the past few years. You will
find that obituary indexes will usually only date from the late 1960s or 1970s. However,
many obituaries have been published in newspapers, and the number of online collections
for newspapers is growing. You may wish to see United States Newspapers and Digital
Historical Newspapers at the Wiki for more information about
For additional sources you might try the following:
The Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American
Newspapers. This site also contains the US Newspaper Directory, 1690 to
Present, with the locations of the repositories of most of the newspapers published
in America.
Cyndi's List at contains many links to obituaryrelated sites. Scroll down and click the topics Obituaries or Newspapers.
Use a Google search to look for online obituaries. To do this you need to find the
name of the paper in the location where you think the death took place. Use
websites Newpapers- USA and Worldwide to help you see if there
was a paper near the locality. Once you find the name, type the name of the
location and the word “newspaper” or “obituary”.
FamilySearch Research Classes online at
Local genealogical and historical societies, public libraries, and some newspaper
publishers maintain clipping files of obituaries. Printed abstracts of obituaries can
also be found in various published sources, such as genealogical periodicals. A
bibliography of published sources is:
Jarboe, Betty M. Obituaries: A Guide to Sources. Second Edition. Boston,
Massachusetts: G. K. Hall, 1989. WorldCat 19372997FHL 973 V43 An
appendix describes obituary indexes available at major libraries.
Additional Published Obituaries
The following suggestions can help you locate other published obituaries.
Some obituaries are published in local genealogical and historical society websites. Go to
The USGenWeb Project at or The WorldGenWeb Project at to learn more.
Other sites host large collections of obituaries arranged by geographical locations. has a large data library with hundreds of thousands of obituaries
from varying timeframes. There are two large user-contributed obituary forums, one for
the United States and the other for Canada.
An obituary index, the Obituary Daily Times (ODT), is hosted on RootsWeb. Founded
in 1995, ODT has more than 13,000,000 indexed obits, and the list is increasing at the
staggering rate of 2,500 a day. It is entirely supported by volunteers, numerous
submitters, and a host of moderators. This free index is among the largest in the world,
and searching is easy. You can also subscribe to the related Obituary Daily Times
Mailing List for a regular index update. Instructions for subscribing are on the website.
As this is an ongoing project, one would want to check it periodically.
A funeral home may also help in locating an obituary. For assistance in locating a
funeral home,, may help in locating a particular funeral home within
a given state.
The Family History Library has some obituaries. Go to the Family History Library
Catalog to find book and film numbers for them. The following instructions will help
you find records for a specific locality using the Place Search:
1. Click Place Search
2.Type the locality that you want to search, and click Search.
3. A list of matches will appear.
4. Click on the locality that most closely matches the one you want.
5. Click Keywords search, enter Obituaries or Newspapers to view the record
There is also a Mennonite Obituaries Index 1930-2001 online. Index is from The
Mennonitische Rundschau. Index covers the world and includes the following:
• Surname • Given Name • Maiden Name • Birth Year • Death Year
• Place of death • Country • Issue • Page
You can read the actual Mennonite Obituaries Here. ( If your family is from Pennsylvania, Illinois or
many eastern states, they may be found on this site. (a subscription site) has good search capability for their obituary
collection for the United States and Great Britain.
GenDisasters contains newspaper articles about train wrecks, tornadoes, fires,
accidents and other explosions. Often these articles contain detailed death
Genealogy Buff - Library - Genealogy Data Files
Obits Archives is a large collection of Newspaper obituaries in the United
States. Can search by all sources or by location. contains transcribed obituaries and death notices from the
1800s to about 1960, and necrology lists from various sources.
List of Surnames in the All-Year Obituary Indexes for Various Primitive
Baptist Church Periodicals
Obit City
Your local library and interlibrary loan
Although your local library may not have a newspaper collection for the place where
your ancestor lived, you may still access to newspapers from distant libraries there. Many
historical newspapers have been microfilmed. Local libraries often have a service called
Interlibrary loan by which they can order microfilm copies of old newspapers from other
libraries for a reasonable fee, usually paid by the patron. Telephone your local librarian to
learn which newspapers covered your ancestor's area and time period. Also ask which
libraries in your area offer interlibrary loan services and what the fees are. Check with
the state historical society or the state archives for microfilmed newspapers.
Web sites
Since digitizing and storing thousands of images of newspaper pages on the Web is
expensive, free online collections of digitized historical newspapers are rare. However,
modern day newspapers are increasingly found for free online. Free access to "historical"
databases can often be found at local libraries or at your local Family History Center.
Historical newspapers online
• ($) ($)
Digital Historical Newspapers (free)
Online Historical Newspapers Website (lists of both free and $)
Wikipedia (lists both free and $) ($)
Library of Congress - Historic American Newspapers (free)
Google News Archive (free)
Current newspapers online
RootsWeb Obituary Daily Times (free) has a searchable database of over 14
million modern-day obituaries extracted by volunteers. Most are from 2000 or
later, but some date back to the 1980s.
ABYZ Newslinks (free) has a directory of links to newspapers online organized
by state and city. (free) links to United States newspapers online.
SHG Resources State Handbook and Guide (free) links to current U.S.
newspapers online.
RootsWeb Newspaper Index. Database contains 454,372 records (48,485
surnames). Selected states, counties and newspapers (as contributed).
WorldVital has an extensive collection of online newspapers.