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Find Your Family - Obituaries

Article Date: 
17 June, 2011 (All day)

 

Obituaries are a wonderful source of information on ancestors.  The following is quoted from the FamilySearch wiki on obituaries:

An obituary is a good source for information about a person. It gives the name of the deceased and the death or burial date. It may also contain information such as the birth date, marriage date, names of parents and spouse, children, occupation, education, and the location of living family members at the time the obituary was written. Obituaries are usually printed in a newspaper or in a local history.

The following suggestions can help you locate obituaries online:

Cyndi’s List at http://www.cyndislist.com/ contains many links to obituary-related 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. Web sites www.refdesk.com/paper.html and http://library.uncg.edu/news/ 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.

Toms, Gary. Newspaper Research. (25 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, and Mid-Continent Public Library, Midwest Genealogy Center, 2010.

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. (FHL book 973 V43j 1989.) An appendix describes obituary indexes available at major libraries.

The following suggestions can help you locate other published obituaries. The United States Newspaper Program at www.neh.gov/projects/usnp.html  will help you determine the name of the repository where obituaries are kept. On the site, click the state where the paper was published. Film copies of newspapers can be loaned to your local public or academic library. Contact the librarian to order the film from the repository that appears for that state.

Some obituaries are published in local genealogical and historical society Web sites. Go to The USGenWeb Project at www.usgenweb.org or The WorldGenWeb Project at www.worldgenweb.org/ to learn more.

Other sites host large collections of obituaries arranged by geographical locations. GenealogyBuff.com 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 web site. 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, FuneralHomes.com may help in locating a particular funeral home within a given State.

In addition to the sources listed above from the FamilySearch wiki, a new company has made arrangements with many newspapers to provide their obituaries.  Genealogybank.com contains hundreds of newspapers, spanning hundreds of years of obituaries,  all of which are searchable.  In Utah, they have seventeen newspapers.  The full list can be found at http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/sourcelist/ .   Utah State University has also digitized many newspapers in Utah that can be searched.  These can be viewed at http://digitalnewspapers.org/ .  

The one note of caution on obituaries is that they often contain inaccuracies.  They are written by family members at the time of the death of a loved one.  Information about the deceased, particularly information about their early life, is often compiled by those who may have only heard the family stories rather than having witnessed it first hand.  Understanding the limitations of these records can help in the interpretation of them.  Whether the obituary provides factual evidence or only clues, they are a rich source of genealogical information.