As you may already know, an obituary is a notice of someone’s death, usually published in a local newspaper by a family member or a funeral home. But, what if you need to access old Canadian obituaries dating from centuries ago up to the present?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Should You Gather Before Finding an Obituary in Canada?
- Can You Find a Canadian Obituary for Free
- Methods for Finding an Obituary in Canada
You can access them in free archives. If you want to find an obituary in Canada, there are numerous ways to do so. But first, it’s important to know some key details about obituaries that can aid you in your search.
What are obituaries?
Obituaries are death notices that an undertaker or funeral home submits to a newspaper publication. They are used to inform the public of the time and place of the funeral services of those who passed away. They also contain specific details about the deceased and their family if the obituaries are written by the deceased’s family members.
Obituaries are not mandatory, so there are instances that some deaths have no notice or obituary. Where you can find one, however, they are valuable sources of research to find surviving families, church names, or graveyards of the deceased.
Thanks to technology, searching for obituaries is quick and easy. The internet now provides you with more options to find out if someone died. To ensure you obtain accurate information, you’ll want to invest time, effort, and potentially some money into your search. Here are eight methods to use during your Canadian obituary search.
What Information Should You Gather Before Finding an Obituary in Canada?
The search for your ancestor’s obituary is simplified depending on how much information you’re able to provide the search engine. The more information you provide, the faster and more accurate your search will be. Here are several items you’ll want to have on hand when looking up a Canadian obituary.
Critical pieces of information
- Birth and death dates
- Birthplace and place of death
- First, middle and last name
Helpful pieces of information
- Where they lived
- Jobs they held
- Names of spouse(s) and children
Naturally, the more information you can provide, the better your search will go. If you’re unsure of an exact birth or death date, most websites will let you enter approximate dates such as 1930 instead of August 8, 1931.
If you’re searching for a female descendant, you can try searching under both their maiden and married names.
For all genders, try variations of their name as well as any nicknames you’re aware of. For example, try “Max Johnson” along with “Maxwell Johnson” and “M. Johnson” if you’re unsure of which name they used for the obituary. Variations in spelling can also be tried, such as “Gold” and “Gould” or “Schmidt” and “Smith.” Spelling changes are especially common for ancestors who immigrated to Canada from Europe.
Can You Find a Canadian Obituary for Free
As with most online and in-person resources, there is a wide variety of paid and free methods available for looking up Canadian obituaries. Here are several places where you can find free and “almost free” options for your obituary search.
Free resources you’re likely to find include:
- Local or national archives
- Newspaper archives
- Some ancestry websites
Join Cake's monthly newsletter.
Learn all you need to know about end-of-life.
“Almost free” refers to options that either charge a small fee for a trial period or offer a short window to try out the service for free but require your credit card information for when the trial ends. These options include:
- Some ancestry websites
- Some obituary finders
Several ancestry websites offer a short window for a free trial with limited options for searching. Regardless of whether you finish your search or you need to keep using the service after the trial, your credit card will be automatically charged unless you remember to cancel it.
Some ancestry websites specialize in a specific ethnic group. Since these sites are so niche, they often operate with small teams and smaller budgets than other websites. These usually charge a small fee for a trial period and a standard fee to continue using the website after the trial is over.
Methods for Finding an Obituary in Canada
When you’re getting ready to search for an obituary, it’s good to have several research options in your toolbelt. If one method doesn’t yield any results, chances are, a different one may be just what you need. Here are seven methods for you to try when looking up an ancestor’s obituary.
Method 1: Local Newspapers
Local newspapers are an excellent place to start with your search. Many older newspapers have been stored in local archives and can be accessed for decades back.
In recent years, newspapers publish their content on websites. Online newspaper searches are best for recent deaths dating six months ago due to records limitations on how much information is stored online. County archives are best when searching through papers for obituaries starting six months ago and further back.
Check Obituaries.com for direct links to hundreds of newspapers of several English-speaking countries, including Canada.
Method 2: Online Obituary Finders
If you’re willing to put extra time and money into your search, many internet platforms can help you search for obituaries. Some even offer free services or a free trial.
With enough effort and the right information, you can find almost anyone’s archived obituary. Here are some of the useful obituary finders that you can try.
This is one of the most user-friendly, searchable databases containing dozens of different types of documents. Ancestry.com contains everything from census records to ship manifests and newspaper archives. It also provides a convenient option to search for a person according to birth, marriage, and death records.
The more information you know and can enter about the deceased, the more Ancestry.com will offer for possible matches. Results can be further narrowed down to show death certificates, burial information, cemetery plots, and obituaries.
However, if you’re trying to search “on the cheap,” you’ll need to maximize the two-week free trial offer for new members. The good thing is that this free trial provides full access to any search results you uncover, together with an option to print copies of your information.
After obtaining what you need, you can cancel your Ancestry.com trial and keep all the information you found. You also have the option to pay for a year for the service and save all your records on the website.
Don’t have anything to search with except the deceased person’s last name? Tributes.com may be the right fit for you.
Tributes.com offers a free obituary search and also offers information from the Social Security Administration, linking to other sites for various newspaper obituaries. You can search for a person's birthdate, death date, and residence at time of death.
This can be a great starting point if you only have a limited amount of information to start your search.
Legacy.com offers a database of over 200 million obituaries from more than 900 newspapers from all across the globe. Legacy.com’s simple interface gives you an easier and faster search. To start, enter the person’s first and last name in the search bar located on the top right corner of the site. Furthermore, you can narrow down your search by specifying the country or state where the deceased was located.
Legacy.com is an excellent website, especially for obituaries located in newsprint. The downside is the site does not contain archived obituaries that are not in newspapers. If the deceased person you’re searching for did not have a newspaper-printed obituary, you may not find any results.
Method 3: Mennonite Archives
The Mennonite Archive is an exclusive source for members of the Mennonite faith dating back to 1884. The obituaries in the Mennonite Archives are meticulously organized alphabetically by last name, maiden name, and year of death.
If the person you’re searching for happens to be a Mennonite, the Mennonite Archives definitely makes it easy to find a free obituary.
Method 4: National Obituary Databases
The government of Canada maintains a database of obituaries and offers free access to all records. The Canadian site provides death notices of its residents. This is a very useful site for those in the field of research or those who casually want information about a particular deceased person.
The Library and Archives of Canada also offers a free database to search for birth, death, and marriage records. Regardless of whether the Canadian you’re searching for died in a different country, you’re likely to find the obituary since he or she is a Canadian and should have records maintained within the archives.
Method 5: Internet Search
Even though there are websites specifically designed for obituaries and historical records and offer extensive information, never underestimate a simple internet search through Google or other search engines. If you know the full name of the deceased, you can try typing his “full name + obituary” into the search engine. The results will yield relevant information in your search for the obituary coming from various websites on the internet.
If your search through the internet did not yield any significant results, you can try to refine your search further by including other details into the search bar such as death date, burial location, or other pertinent information.
Method 6: Public Library
You can check the local library near your home if you live in the same area as the person who passed away or visit the county library in the city where the person died. Libraries commonly subscribe to local and regional newspapers. They often keep hard copies for several weeks and archives for years, so it’s also a good idea to browse through them.
If you’re searching for obituaries published years ago, you can ask a librarian for assistance searching for older issues of newspapers. Some of those issues are only available on microfilm and on a microfilm machine.
Method 7: The Mormon Church Family History Library
The Mormon Church has collected a multitude of diverse information. It’s available to the general public at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It holds the record as the world's largest genealogical library with over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm, 742,000 microfiche records, 310,000 books, and hundreds of electronic records.
To guide you in your search, you can ask for help from the librarians to direct you to the appropriate sources of old obituaries. You can also order the information you need through your local Family History Center if Salt Lake City is inaccessible for you. If the Canadian you’re searching for was a Mormon, then you’ll likely find information about the death in the archives.
Get Started on Your Obituary Quest
Before you start in on your search, be sure to gather as much information as possible about the deceased so your search is faster and more productive. Collect at least two or more of the following facts:
- Full name (Including maiden name for women)
- Date and place of birth and death
- Places of employment
- Dates of education (up to the highest degree attained)
- Degrees received
- Family members
- Cemetery or burial location (it might take a while to find a grave in a cemetery)
- Funeral arrangements
Obituaries serve as a link to the past and fill in the gaps for many of a family member’s descendants.
They also provide concrete information to pass on to future generations or to serve as a reference when you need to write an obituary in the future. Whatever purpose you have in mind to search for an obituary, there are multiple and inexpensive ways of finding them if you look in the right places.