How to Search for Archived Obituaries in Michigan

Updated

Obituaries serve an important purpose for the people they honor and their families. An important part of the memorial process, they emphasize facts versus emotion and poetry.

Are you looking for obituaries in Michigan? Consider a few things as you learn how to find an obituary. The best methods for doing so may come down to the age of the obituary.

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In this post, we’ll discuss how to search archived obituaries in Michigan. We'll share some specific steps to follow and tips to consider when you search for these types of records in general.

What Are the Michigan Obituaries Archives?

Basic Google searches often result in recently archived content on various platforms and social media sites. People often write or share obituaries with their loved ones. However, obituaries provide a far more clear, detailed glimpse into who the person was, the deceased's relatives, contributions and challenges, and how to show your support on their behalf. 

Thanks to various library systems and archives in Michigan, you can search for obituaries from as far back as 1867. These archive systems look a bit different than when you look for a free online obituary

Archives generally refer to older records. You may not have to get as creative to find what you’re looking for in these cases. 

About Michigan Public Records 

Michigan is considered an open record state, which means that most vital records, including death certificates, remain open to the public. 

In fact, the general public can get access to death records, categorized as public records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act — except when restricted by a provision of the law or court order. 

This means you should have an easier time finding data in Michigan than in some other states. 

How to Search the Michigan Obituaries Archives

Take these steps to learn more about how to search the Michigan obituary archives.

Search through library resources (online or in person)

Depending on when your loved one passed away (if you know), you can use a variety of free library resources from the state of Michigan. Some of these resources may provide access online or you may have to arrange an in-person visit. 

In-person visits can also connect you with library professionals who may have an easier time using their systems. That said, you should also call your library of choice to see if you can get assistance over the phone. 

Here are few specific resources to use either online or in person:

  • MLive: This website keeps a database of obituaries published in different newspapers from around the state. You can search recent entries as well as archives. The search function offers name-based and place-based searches. You can also use an advanced search option, which provides additional filters such as period and keyword.
  • Family Search: You can search through Michigan obituaries from 1867 to 1897. Family Search offers a convenient resource for those looking for a much older obituary than usual. 
  • Saginaw Public Libraries: This library system has a search tool and a dedicated genealogy and history section. You can also apply filters, including for a particular year or over a wider period. You can also use a wildcard search if you’re unsure of any details. The index contains 200,000 entries from the 19th century to the present day.
  • Michigan City Public Library: This database includes around 90,000 obituaries spanning from 1887 to the present day. If you find the obituary you need in the database, you can request a copy from the library.
  • Mount Clemens Public Library: This library system also has an extensive obituary index with more than 20,000 entries from Macomb County. 
  • Detroit Public Library: You can have professionals take care of the work as long as you pay a fee to the Detroit Public Library. However, you can also try to do the search yourself onsite, free of charge. Alternatively, you can ask your local library to check microfilms of newspaper records from a period you have identified as most likely for the obituary to have been published.

Check the Michigan government site

You can also search on the Michigan government site. The website may not help you find the obituary directly, but it may provide additional information about where to locate it or the city or town where this person lived. 

Cross-reference with death records

You can look for death records (and other vital records) on the Michigan Department of Health website. As we’ve discussed, death certificates differ from obituaries in a variety of ways. They can help in the short term or if you decide to rewrite an obituary. Death certificates in Michigan show the following: 

  • Name at birth or other name used for personal business
  • Education
  • Unincorporated places
  • Hispanic origin
  • Relationship
  • Time pronounced dead
  • If tobacco use contributed to the death
  • Pregnancy status (if female)
  • Whether it was a transportation injury

Look on social media 

Though this may sound a bit odd or even creepy, you can often find things like obituaries on the social media profiles of the deceased person’s relatives. 

However, if you're already "friends" with this person on social media, you should be able to look through the relative's previous posts based on date order. 

You could even send a relative of the deceased a courteous, honest message about your inquiry if you find that this person has a private social media account. 

Tips for Searching Obituary Records

Following the above steps should yield success when searching for obituaries in Michigan. However, we’ll also provide a few additional tips to consider. These tips can extend beyond obituaries and should help you whether you're looking for professional or personal information.

Ensure you have the correct search details

The misspelling of a name or another detail can throw you for a loop. Even if you think you've spelled the person’s name correctly or you believe the deceased died in a certain place, you may need to modify your searches slightly. Try varied spellings of the person’s name. You may have made an error or the obituary itself may be incorrect (but hopefully not).

Filter search results

When searching in general, you can customize your searches to filter out irrelevant results. If the search engine does its job, you may not need to do this. However, you may want to include a filter for a specific date range. 

You can also add quotes around the information you need your results to contain. For example, you can put quotes around the person’s name, like “Jack Robertson.” If you believe this person passed away in Boston, Massachusetts, then you can also put separate quotes around “Boston.”

If you’re not using a generic search engine, explore the capabilities of the search tool you've chosen to use. If you’re paying to search an archive system, this should take the majority of the work off of your plate and it should pop up quite easily.  

Ask a person’s loved one

Still struggling to find an obituary or unable to pay a search service to help you find it? You can always reach out to this person’s mutual friends and family members before you go any further.

Obituaries can certainly provide you with closure or factual information for genealogical research.

What to Do if You Can’t Find an Obituary (or a Good One)

If all else fails, you may need to write a new obituary for this person. You may also want to do this when you find an obituary but you don't like how it’s written or you believe it contains incorrect information. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking this information for your own records, even if you can’t change it in the archives.

Learn more about how to write an obituary if you need to rewrite one. Due to the formulaic nature of obituaries and the standard requirements in them, you may not have that much trouble putting them together, especially if you have a good number of details about the deceased person. 

Details Matter

Details matter in obituaries. A misspelled name or incorrect fact can cause confusion and upset for those grieving. However, you can edit online obituaries, save them, and archive them as needed. In addition, you can find them online later. Sometimes people write their own obituaries to avoid these types of errors. Learn some tips for how to write an obituary for yourself.

When searching for obituaries in any state, no matter how long ago an individual passed away, make sure that you have the correct search details. Of course, it’s never a bad idea to ask for help. On that note, you can find all kinds of resources related to end-of-life planning on Cake, including a free end-of-life planning tool for you and your loved ones. 


Sources:
  1. Michigan Obituaries. Public Libraries. publiclibraries.com/obituaries/michigan.
  2. State of Michigan. Michigan.gov. michigan.gov.
  3. Newspaper Archives. MLive. mlive.com/mlive_special_sections/page/newspaper_archives.html.
  4. Michigan Online Genealogical Records. Family Search. familysearch.org/wiki/en/Michigan_Online_Genealogy_Records.
  5. Public Libraries of Saginaw. Saginaw Library. saginawlibrary.org.
  6. Michigan City Public Library. Michigan City Public Library. mclib.org.
  7. Mount Clemens Public Library. Mount Clemens Public Library. mtclib.org.
  8. Detroit Public Library. Detroit Public Library. detroitpubliclibrary.org.
  9. Birth, Death, Marriage, and Divorce Records. MDHHS - Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71551_4645---,00.html.

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