An Obituary is an article, usually published in a newspaper, that reports on the death of an individual. The typical obituary contains information about the funeral plans for the deceased as well as some biographical information about the deceased.
Obituaries have always been a major source of information for genealogists. Obituaries can contain information that provides time lines, family relationships, locations, education, military service and other biographical information about individuals. In many cases obituaries are the major source of biographical information about an individual.
The information found in obituary records can be significantly different for individuals. One obituary record might contain only the names of the deceased’s immediate relatives while another obituary record might contain substantial biographical information including the names of the deceased’s parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters as well as education and employment.
In recent years the majority of online newspapers have added features to their online obituary records. For example today most online obituary records contain guest books where any individual can post his or her thoughts and memories about the deceased. Sometimes there is unique biographical information posted in a guest book and usually the individual leaves his or her email address.
So it is usually easy to contact someone who has posted to an individual obituary record and it may be possible that the individual can and will provide you with additional information about the deceased.
If you don’t know the death date and place of death of an individual you will first need to find that information before you can try to find the obituary for the individual. Sometimes you can find the death date and place of death in family records - like a Family Bible. If you can’t find the death date in family records then a death index is a good place to look.
A death index is a listing or database of death records and it usually contains at minimum the name of a deceased person and the date of death. Many local libraries have developed death indexes and they are usually available for use at the library and sometimes these death indexes are also online. Annual Almanacs published by local newspapers are also a good source for death dates because many contain a list of all those who died during the year before the Annual Almanac was published. These almanacs are usually available for use at the local library and sometimes the death reports have been transcribed or imaged and are available online.
Many states provide death indexes for the deaths in their states and these death indexes are usually available online. You can read our discussion of a United States Federal death index in the Social Security Death Index.
Obituaries from recent years can usually be found online in one or more newspapers that cover the local area where the death occurred. So for your obituary search just go to the online newspaper and look in the paper's obituary section sometimes called obits. Here you should find the online obituaries.
Your obituary search should also include a visit to the funeral home's website because most funeral homes provide online obituaries and in some cases provide more information than what appears in a newspaper's obituary. For example a funeral home's obituary record might include a photo of the deceased, more extensive biographical information and a guest book with posts from friends of the deceased.
If you don't know the funeral home or area where the death occurred your obituary search should include a visit to our free search of Cemetery Records.
See our case study, California Death Index and the Search for Martha Kishbaugh, to learn how we found birth information about Martha's parents, John Hinchcliff and Mary Stahl.
Funeral home memorial cards are a good source of death dates. These are the small cards that the funeral home traditionally prints as a tribute to the deceased. They are usually available to everyone who attends the deceased's wake or funeral. Sometimes the burial date, usually a few days after the death date, is printed on the card.
Sometimes these cards can be found online and in many cases they are in family possessions. They are also called Prayer Cards, Funeral Cards, Memorial Cards or Holy Cards.
See our Search Tips about finding Obituary Information.