Finding an obituary for someone who died more than 10 years ago is easier now than it ever has been, thanks to the number of genealogy companies who have digitized records and placed them online. Websites such as Ancestry.com and Legacy.com allow you to search their databases for free using the deceased person's name and city. Not every document source has been placed online, however. You may have to search offline to find the obituary you need.
Gather as Much Information as You Can
The more information you have about the deceased person, the easier your research will be. Obituaries are usually published within a few days or weeks of a person's death, so knowing the precise date and location of death narrows your search parameters considerably. If possible, try to locate the person's full name, including maiden name, if appropriate, date of birth, date and place of death, and city of residence.
Ancestry.com offers an extensive database of searchable public death records. Navigate to the "Death, Burial, Cemetery & Obituaries" page, type in as much information about the deceased as you know, and see what the database returns to you. While you can run a basic records search for free, you will need to become a paid member to download a copy of the actual obituary. Alternatively, take advantage of the two-week trial period that allows for printing copies of documents. Legacy.com and newspaperarchive.com offer a similar service.
Search the Public Library
Most of the larger public libraries keep issues of local newspapers, which means you can easily look up any published obituaries for the time period you're interested in. How far back the issues go depends on the size and resources of the library. Some libraries maintain back issues of newspapers on microfilm – call to see what's available. Even if the person whose obituary you are seeking did not live near you, the librarian may be able to search the records and email you copies of anything found.
View the State Archives
State archives exist to preserve all historical and legal records that are connected with the history of the state, which means it should be one of your stops if you're doing any type of genealogy research. Find your state archive department from the list on the National Archives website. From there, you can click through to the public archives' website for your state or simply phone the office to see if they hold newspapers for the time period you're looking for. Some states let you search their collections online.
The Mennonite Archives maintains obituaries for members of the Mennonite faith dating back to 1884. Search online by last name and year of death. The Mormon Church Family History Library has more than 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, including obituaries, related to the Mormon faith. If you can't get to Salt Lake City, call the library ask a researcher to check the records for you. Old Virginia Obituaries is a database of obituaries from Virginia newspapers published between 1790 and 1940. Click on the first letter of the deceased's last name in the online search feature and review the matching records.
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- There are times when an obituary will not be located because one was not written and printed.
A former corporate real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and personal finance, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.