United States Obituaries
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An obituary is a published or unpublished death announcement.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. Obituaries may be a good source of information about a person and may also include information about family members. Obituaries usually give the name of the deceased and the death or burial date. They often do not contain the death date and you will need to "figure it out" from other information such as the date and day of the week that the obituary was published. They 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 funeral program, a newspaper or in a local history. And remember, in addition to the local paper in the area where the person died, obituaries are often published in newspapers in the town or towns where the person lived or grew up.
Sources for Obituaries
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.
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.
- Public Libraries links to obituary search engines in all states and the U.S. Virgin Islands and has search tips and suggestions by locality.
- Cyndi's List 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. Websites Newpapers- USA and Worldwide and News and Newspapers Online 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.
- Many funeral homes publish obituaries on their websites. These can usually be located with a Google search on the person's name.
- FamilySearch Research Classes Online
- 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.
- 1980-2014 United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980-2014 at FamilySearch — index and images
Additional Published Obituaries
The following suggestions can help you locate other published obituaries.
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, Parting.com, may help in locating a particular funeral home within a given State.
The Family History Library has some obituaries. Go to the FamilySearch 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:
- Go to www.familysearch.org
- Click and search for individual names
- Click FamilySearch Catalog
- Click Place Search
- Type the locality that you want to search, and click Search.
- A list of matches will appear. Click on the locality that most closely matches the one you want.
- Click Keywords search, enter Obituaries or Newspapers to view the record holdings.
For Mennonite obituaries in the U.S., visit Online index to United States Mennonite Newspaper Obituaries, starting 1864. If your family is from Pennsylvania, Illinois or many eastern states this article may be useful.
There is also a Mennonite Obituaries Index 1930-2001 online. Index is from The Mennonitische Rundschau. Index covers the world and includes the following:
• Given Name
• Maiden Name
• Birth Year
• Death Year
• Place of death
Ancestry.com (a subscription site) has good search capability for their obituary collection for the United States and Great Britain.
Search Strategies for Locating Obituaries
Because obituaries are written at or soon after the death of the person you should search under the name by which he or she would have been known at the time, i.e., search using married names for married women. When searching websites or by using Google, start with the longshot and search by first and last name (Steven Jones) you probably will not get instant results but it is well worth the time saved if you get lucky. If you do not get any returns, follow up by casting a broad net and search by surname only. Then slowly narrow the search by adding additional search terms such as first name, a nickname, or a location. You can even search by using the name of a family member that might have been mentioned in the obituary. Remember that sometimes the obituary for a married woman gives her name as "Mrs. [husband's name]" and may not even mention her first or maiden name. You might need to get creative using only initials or just a middle name - use your imagination - and use wildcards on those websites where they are permitted.
- Obituary Daily Times at Rootsweb - searchable index.
- The Library of Congress Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers.
- 1980-2014 - United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries, 1980-2014 at FamilySearch — index and images
- 2001-2014 - Currentobituary.com index, 2001-2014 at FamilySearch — index
- USGenWeb Project - may contain obituary transcriptions or indexes
- USGenWeb Archives Project. - may contain some obiturary transcriptions by location.
- Ancestry ($)
- GenDisasters contains newspaper articles about train wrecks, tornadoes, fires, accidents and other explosions. Often these articles contain detailed death information.
- GenealogyBank is a paid site with searchable images of historic newspapers.
- Mennonite Obituary Index - index of many Mennonite obituaries.
- Legacy.com is a free website containing thousands of obituaries.
- Genealogy Buff - Library - Genealogy Data Files
- ObitsArchives is a large collection of Newspaper obituaries in the United States. Can search by all sources or by location.
- OldDeathRecords.org 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