How to Find an Obituary for Your Ancestor

Helpful tips for locating newspaper obituaries in the United States

Obituaries printed in the newspaper can contain a lot of information about your ancestor and their family members. For example, obituaries can give information like dates and locations of birth, marriage, and death; names of parents, spouses, children, and living relatives; current residence and names of living relatives; and details about a person's occupation, hobbies, personality, church affiliation, or burial location.

The amount of detail you will find in an obituary will vary, depending on the year the obituary was printed, the area in which your ancestor lived, and how prominent they were in their community. Obituaries printed in about 1890 or later are more likely to have detailed information. Before 1890, the information printed in the newspaper about deaths will likely be more brief but may still have helpful details.

You may be able to learn more about your ancestor through the obituaries of their parents, spouse, siblings, or children. Getting as many obituaries as possible from all of the family members will help you to learn more about the family.

Sometimes it can be tricky to locate your ancestor's obituary because a copy of the newspaper you need could be in a number of possible locations, both online and in archives and libraries.

Here are some methods that you can take to locate an obituary for people that died in the United States.

1. Look for online digitized newspapers for the area in which your ancestor died

One way to locate online digitized newspapers is through our U.S. newspaper directory. Look for the state and county that you need, and then look for sources that have ONLINE next to them and you will find the website where the online newspapers are located.

Due to the fast rate at which newspapers are coming online, our directory may not have some newspapers listed yet. An additional way to locate online digitized newspapers it to do a Google search on the name of the city or county where your ancestor died along with the words "digitized newspapers."

Keep in mind that not all newspapers are online yet. However, many newspapers are available in paper or microfilm copies.

2. Look for paper or microfilm copies of the newspapers in the area in which you ancestor lived

Our newspaper directory also contains newspapers which are not online yet including the names of the archive(s) where copies are located. This can help you to know where the newspaper for the location where your ancestor died was likely printed. Sometimes there was not a newspaper printed in the town where your ancestor died, but they did have an obituary printed in the newspaper a larger town or city nearby.

Once you locate a possible newspaper title in our newspaper directory, it will list names of the archives where copies are located. Then you can search for a website of the archive and contact them for help to access their newspapers. Many of the archives will assist you to find an obituary for a fee.

Keep in mind that if you are looking for obituaries in newspapers that aren't online, you will usually need an exact date of death first because the newspapers will need to be searched page by page, which can be a time consuming process.

3. Contact the local library in the general area where your ancestor died

Find the website for the local library for the city or county where your ancestor died. Often local libraries have historic newspapers for their area and the surrounding areas. Look for contact information or other details on the library website and ask them for assistance. Often the library will help you to find an obituary for free or for a small fee.

Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.1 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.

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