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Obituary Searches

Obituary searches are helpful for those looking to obtain information about deceased loved ones.

Some obituary searches can range back many decades. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Some obituary searches can range back many decades.

Obituary Searches

Obituary searches can be highly valuable tools, not only for finding out information about a recently deceased person but also for researchers digging for genealogy information. For example, a family historian might want to know things like where a member of a family was born or died, or even who the individual's relatives were. Online obituary search engines link to indexes or actual copies of obituaries housed by libraries, universities or even newspapers.

Using Obituary Searches

In the days before the Internet, researchers had to physically go to a library to look up obituaries, which oftentimes were on microfilm. Even today, smaller newspapers may not provide all obituaries online. Rather, they hold back issues of the newspapers in their offices. However, family historians can check out numerous reputable online obituary search sites when looking for information. These sites link the researcher to newspaper obituaries from all over the country, often dating back more than 100 years.

Although there are numerous sites to choose from, one of the best online obituary search engines is Ancestory.com. It offers obituary listings from hundreds of newspapers, dating back 150 years. Another reputable obituary search engine provided by the government is the Social Security Death Index from World Vital Records.

Why Use Obituary Searches

According to Old Obits, it was after the Civil War that publishing newspaper obituaries became the norm, not just for those in the public eye but for common residents as well. Oftentimes, these obituary listings were the only record of a person's death. During the 1890s through the 1920s, death certificates were not always issued in some parts of the country, making obituaries all the more valuable. Another bonus for researchers is that sometimes obituaries are the only legal documentation of a female's maiden name.

With large numbers of immigrants finding their way to the United States, it is sometimes difficult for family historians to find information on when or where a member of the family was born. By using obituary listing sites, researchers can attempt to fill in the blanks. In addition, these family historians can use obituary information to find out what the deceased died from, spouses and other relative's names, where the deceased was buried and other important family information.

One reason a non-historian might use obituary searches is to simply find out if a person is dead or alive. For example, a host might want to ensure a reunion invitation is not sent to a deceased member. This can prevent an invitation from being sent to a bereaved spouse.

Obituary Search Tips

Researchers should consult several sites to cross-check information. Some obituary search sites are geared toward family historians, such as the Obituary Daily Times.  It sends twice-daily emails of obituaries right to a researchers e-mail box. Another site called Obituaries Search provides links to older obituaries, including those written before 1950.

Most online obituary sites cannot provide information on every deceased person. It may be even more difficult to find family information if a widow left the area where the spouse passed away. This is a common problem for researchers seeking information on individuals from the early 20th century; after a wife passed, oftentimes the husband would travel West, eventually resulting in two separate death notices on either side of the country.

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