Obituary Search

How can an obituary search help you make family history discoveries?

An obituary is a written notice about a person’s death – and it can be a wealth of information when you are researching your family history. Often obituaries include vital clues that allow you to make exciting discoveries about the people in your family tree.

A typical obituary search will give you helpful information like birth date and place of birth, date of death and place of death, and names of family members. The really good ones offer tidbits like where the person worked, organizations they belonged to, or other clues that can help with your genealogy research.

An online obituary search is quick, easy, and convenient. Best of all, the results are immediate. You know right away if the trail you are on is hot or cold. You can take the results and explore other people in their family like children, siblings, parents, or their spouse – even spouses of children.

Where should you begin your obituary search?

As with any genealogy research, the more information you have for your obituary search, the more precise your results will be.

When you want to search obituaries, try starting with these easy steps:

  • Type in the first and last name. You can choose exact spelling as a search preference, but be aware that it is very common for records to be recorded with misspelling. So, not having the precise spelling function set is usually helpful.
  • Date of death (at least the year) can be very helpful, if you know it. If you have the place, or the place where the person was buried, that helps too.
  • A birthdate, even approximate, can help a lot. Most obituaries list the birthdate of the individual who has passed.
  • Including the names of family members who may be mentioned in the obituary may help narrow your search.

You may have to wade through the obituary search results to find the one you want, but the more information you can offer, the fewer records you’ll have to sift through to find the right one.

How to Find an Obituary for a Specific Person in the US

US-based obituary searches are fairly easy because of the abundance of records available to you. Searching local obituaries in your newspaper or in an online newspaper archive will typically get you the results you want.

Remembrance sites and funeral homes publish obituaries on their websites so you can sometimes find them digitally by searching there. You’ll find many of these types of obituaries on NewspaperArchive. These tend to be more recent deaths, but as more records are digitized and databases are made available, you can find older records as well.
Genealogy websites often provide access to many historical records, including obituaries. If you’re trying to figure out how to find an obituary for a specific person in the US, these types of sites make it easy to limit your search parameters to the United States so you get more relevant records.

Of course, there’s the good old web search. All you have to do is type in the person’s name plus the word “obituary”. You can narrow your results further by placing quotes around the person’s name so that your search will be more precise.
Exploring your family history is fun and enlightening. You get a better sense of where you came from and discover some great stories in the process. And there’s no better place to begin than with obituaries!

Other records that can help in your obituary search

Newspapers hold a wealth of information between their pages. They typically report two types of notices regarding a person’s death. One is a death notice. This can be a simple listing stating the death and possibly the funeral rites of a person. The other type is an obituary. An obituary is what most people are familiar with, and it usually includes more detailed information and can sometimes tell a life story all by itself.

Obituaries and death notices can be a great source for the family historian. However, if you only search these two types of death notices, you might be missing out on valuable information.

Another type of bereavement announcement you might find in older newspapers is a card of thanks. This was a short note of thanks to people for their cards, flowers, and words of encouragement upon the death of a family member.

In memoriam is a type of notice about a death. These can be very unique. People would sometimes submit poems to the newspaper to remember their loved ones.

Depending on the level of education and community involvement of your ancestor, you might be able to find a necrology report. Colleges, universities, and chapters of community organizations have been known to submit articles to newspapers with the deaths of their alumni and members. These types of “reports” give unique insight into the lives of your ancestors.

Even though cards of thanks, in memoriams, and necrology reports are not common practice in present-day newspapers, don’t let these bygone means of remembrance escape your research techniques.

Other creative ways to search obituaries

When it comes to searching for the deaths of your ancestors in newspapers, prepare to get creative. The smallest piece of information could be the ticket to finding that elusive family member.

Here are some helpful things to consider using for your obituary search:

  • Alternate name spellings
  • Birth date and location
  • Death date and location
  • Age
  • Marriage date(s)
  • Maiden names of women
  • Names of family members (spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings)
  • Places your ancestor lived
  • Education, schools attended, degrees received
  • Organization memberships
  • Occupation/employment
  • Church affiliations
  • Cemetery
  • Funeral arrangements

Other tips for conducting a successful obituary search

Sometimes we all need a little help. If you’re searching with the basic personal information and not having any luck, here are some more tips and tricks.

Make sure to broaden your search area. Local obituaries tend to be the best, but if your great-great-grandfather lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, you may find something about him in The Chicago Tribune. While local papers tend to be the best resource, try experimenting with a broader search area and see what you can find.

Where did your ancestors live? Smaller communities typically had everyone’s obituary or death notice listed. A small town newspaper had the space to write about everyone in their local obituaries section. Plus, the readers of the newspapers thrived on reading about the people of the town and its surrounding areas. Think of it as the social media network of print! Large cities, on the other hand, did not have the newspaper space to include everyone. Only important members of the city or those of high social standing would have an obituary in a large city’s newspaper.

And you don’t have to stop at the obituary. Reading other parts of the newspaper in which you find your ancestor’s obituary will give you special insight into the life and times of your family member. Read articles, classifieds, social happenings, and advertisements. Immerse yourself in their time.

Can’t wait to start your obituary search? You’ve got the tips and tricks. Now go find those ancestors! Read less