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How to Find Obituaries Online

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Headstone detail at Park Street Cemetery.
April Maciborka/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

You can find nearly anything on the Web; however, obituaries, published daily in nearly every newspaper around the world, aren't so easy to find online.

In fact, since most newspapers do not publish digital archives of their papers online, finding obituaries usually ends up being a (gasp!) offline research task. In this how-to, I'm going to give you a few pointers you can use to start your obituary search on and off the Web.

 

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: Depends on what you're looking for

Here's How:

  1. In order to make your obituary searches as efficient as possible, you'll need to have this information available before you get started:
    • last name
    • first name
    • place of residence
    • place of death
    • date of death

    Also, because most obituaries are initially printed in newspapers, it would be extremely helpful if you knew the name and location of the newspaper in which the obituary was printed, as well as the date (the date won't necessarily be the date of the person's death).

  2. If you don't know the exact date of death, you can use the Social Security Death Index to find out this information. You'll still need the first and last name in order to use this resource, which is completely free. Here's what the SSDI will turn up for you:
    • Name
    • Birth and death
    • Last known residence
    • Last benefit
    • Social security number
    • state in which the social security card was issued
    While the state in which the SS card was issued and the last known residence might not always be completely correct, it's a good tidbit of information to add to your obituary search. Keep in mind that every little bit counts!
  3. Once you have as much information as you can find about your person, it's time to start thinking about which newspaper their obituary might show up in. Without knowing the specific city and state that this information might be found, your chances of finding their obituary become very slim, so this information is vital.

    If you have the city and state of your person, you can start searching online newspaper archives. Here are a few to get you started:

  4. If the obituary you're looking for is fairly recent (within the last thirty days), there's a good chance you'll be able to find it online at the newspaper's site it was published (for more on finding newspapers all over the world, read Online Newspapers).

    If the obituary is older, you can check out the above-mentioned archival sites, or, if you have no luck there, there are a couple other methods you might try.

    First, contact the newspaper that carried the obituary by phone or by email (all newspapers will have this information listed on their websites). Be sure to have all the information they will need.

  5. Second, find out which libraries in your local area offer access to digitized newspaper archives. You can find a list of libraries at Library Search or the Library Locator.
  6. You can also search the fantastic resource that is WorldCat, a site that "lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world." Archival content is freely accessible here, and if you get stumped, you can even ask for help from a real librarian.

Tips:

  1. Gather as much information as you possibly can before starting your obituary searches.
  2. Realize that your obituary searches will take time and effort.
  3. Unless the person you are looking for is a celebrity of some sort, their obituary could be somewhat difficult to track down.
  4. Use all the resources in this article to gather bits of information. It's unlikely that you'll find everything you need at once, but add up all those little bits and you'll have something substantial.

What You Need:

  • Internet connectioin
  • Time
  • As much information as possible about the person you're looking for

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