If you’re looking for the obituary of someone who died, it might not always be easy to know where to start. An obituary is a type of news article or publication that officially announces the death of a person. Obituaries come in different shapes and sizes, sometimes including more information about the cause of death as well as the life of the deceased.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Locate an Obituary?
- What You’ll Need Before You Find an Obituary
- How to Find an Obituary Online
- How to Find an Obituary In-Person
- What If There Isn’t an Obituary?
For obituaries published in small newspapers that are not online, locating what you’re looking for is a greater challenge. Luckily, there are a lot of strategies today for finding the death announcement you’re looking for. From online search tools to in-person resources, here’s how to find someone’s obituary online or offline.
Tip: If you'd like more help navigating the complicated process of losing a loved one, our post-loss checklist is here to help.
Why Locate an Obituary?
Why would you need to find an obituary in the first place? There are a number of reasons to start searching, but one of the most common is to uncover information about your family history. Genealogy and ancestry are becoming more popular, and people are looking for new ways to trace their family ties.
Unlike other types of records, obituaries share a lot of information about the deceased. Even if it’s easier to find the death certificate, this usually doesn’t give a full picture of the person who died. An obituary, whether online or offline, offers a clear glimpse into the individual’s life and death.
What You’ll Need Before You Find an Obituary
Before you start your search for the obituary, you’ll need to gather some information. Whether you search online or offline, you’ll need to know as much about the individual as possible. You should know:
- The full name of the deceased person (and the maiden name, if necessary)
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Place of birth
- Place of death
- Names for next of kin (children, partner, parents)
Why are all of these things important? Especially in years past, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be several people with similar or the same names. Names are typically passed through families, and you don’t want to spend time searching only to uncover the wrong person’s obituary.
If you can’t find all of the information above, don’t fret. Just gather as much information as you can before starting your search. You’ll likely uncover more documentation as you start the research process.
How to Find an Obituary Online
The good news is that finding an obituary has never been easier thanks to the internet. Even for those that passed long ago, many modern newspapers, county websites, and ancestry websites digitalized obituaries of the past to make them easily accessible to living descendants. After you gather the information above, start these steps below.
1. Use a search engine
Before we dive into the more complicated search methods, let’s start simple. You’d be surprised what you learn with a simple web search.
Go to Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine and type the individual’s name followed by obituary. Write the name in quotation marks so the search engine knows not to show you similar spellings. An example would be to type: “John Smith” obituary.
If the name you’re looking for is common, add more information. You could include the location of death, like the city or state. You could also include the name of a next of kin relative like a spouse. The location and next of kin are often included in obituaries, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. Sometimes a simple search with this method is all you need.
2. Search an obituary tool
If you don’t have success with a simple web search, it’s time to use a more advanced resource. Obituary finders are online platforms specifically designed to categorize and store obituaries. With these tools, it’s much easier to find recent obituaries from the past 20 years. However, many also have older obituaries as well.
An obituary finder gathers obituaries from newspapers, death certificates, and county information. There are some that are specific to different locations, but you can also use one of these larger platforms:
- Legacy: Legacy has a large collection of obituaries from the past and present. You can browse by initial and location with the obituary finder tool.
- Tributes: Tributes is a free tool for creating obituaries, and it also has a search tool. Obituaries are organized by location and date.
- Ancestry: One of the most well-known genealogy websites also has an obituary platform. However, there are limits to the free plan.
3. Browse newspaper archives
While this likely won’t yield as many results as the methods above, it’s worth a shot if you’re still not having luck. Many newspapers store archives of their printed newspapers, making it easy to find older information about any death notices.
To begin your search through newspapers, you’ll need to know the location that the deceased person died. Knowing the city or general area helps narrow your search quickly to the right publications. These newspaper finders make it simple to search multiple archives:
- US News Archives: Newspaper archives organized by the city.
- Google News Archives: Newspapers that go back hundreds of years.
- Public Library: Archived library resources, including community documents.
How to Find an Obituary In-Person
If you don’t find your obituary online, don’t give up hope. Especially for deaths that happened over a hundred years ago, obituaries aren’t always online. Finding an obituary in-person might be more time-consuming, but it’s still possible. Community centers and resources are designed to help you with this process, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
1. Contact the public library
Public libraries are a great resource for finding older documents. They usually have some type of archive system or office that’s available for assistance.
If you’re looking for an obituary from several years ago, you can contact the library in the person's city of death. Give them as much information as you have about the individual and when they died.
If the obituary is very old, it might not exist in print. You might need to visit the library yourself to view older issues of newspapers or documents on microfilm. You’ll need to use the library’s microfilm machine, and these things must stay within the library. Bring a notebook and pen to take notes about what you find.
2. Learn more about the individual
Sometimes you simply don’t have enough information to find what you’re looking for. If that’s the case, you’ll need to learn more. The more you know, the easier it is to narrow your research. While the information we talked about earlier is a must, all of the below supercharge your search skills:
- Places of employment
- Schools attended
- Degrees received
- Cemetery (if buried)
These things above all open new search routes for finding the individual’s obituary. For the school records, for example, you could research the school’s archive office of alumni affairs. They typically stay on top of their student’s success after graduation, especially for colleges. It’s a good idea to think creatively.
3. Location relevant contacts
Once you have a list with more information, start making contacts wherever you can. Call any organization or resource that you suspect might have information about the deceased and their end-of-life. Churches, schools, organizations, employers, and so on are all a great place to start. You never know what you might find.
If possible, locate the name of the cemetery where the person was buried. Contact the cemetery directly to see if they have an obituary record. These are commonly kept with the deceased’s memorial information, especially if there was a funeral. Think outside of the box to see what you discover.
What If There Isn’t an Obituary?
There are some instances where you won’t find the obituary you’re looking for. Either the obituary never existed, or there was never a record kept of it.
Unfortunately, over time, newspaper records aren’t always stored properly or securely. They could be damaged or simply lost to time. In other instances, these obituaries might not exist in the first place.
In some instances, it’s especially challenging to find obituaries. If the deceased person you’re searching for lived abroad in a place where recordkeeping wasn’t common, or if they died centuries ago, it’s even more of a challenge to locate a clear death announcement. In years past, many families chose not to publish these types of notices for the deceased.
If you’re unable to find an obituary, don’t be hard on yourself. The act of searching and putting in the effort is a touching tribute to someone who’s no longer here. Your actions are truly what matters most of all, regardless of the outcome. There are other ways to piece together your family tree or to honor the deceased than to find the obituary yourself.
Searching for Legacies Online and In-Person
An obituary is a record of someone’s death that served as an announcement to the community. Humans created obituaries or death announcements for thousands of years, but these have only recently become digital. The good news is that today’s technology makes creating lasting legacies online achievable for all. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for those who died long ago.
This step-by-step guide above highlights the many ways to find an obituary online or in-person. Whether you choose a simple Google search or a more hands-on approach, you’ll find yourself closer to discovering what you’re looking for. Taking the time to think about those who died before us is a powerful way to not only pay tribute to someone’s memory but to also consider our own legacies.
Still searching for a loved one's obituary? Read our guide on how to search for a Candian obituary.