How to Find Old, Archived Obituaries in Wisconsin: Step by Step

Updated

Obituaries offer more than just factual summaries about people who have passed away. They serve an important part of the memorial process for many and offer a key way to honor the deceased.

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If you find yourself searching for archived obituaries in Wisconsin, you may not know where to begin or how to find an obituary — especially archived obituaries. 

This post will share information about how to search archived obituaries in Wisconsin. We'll also offer some tips to consider when looking into these types of records.

How to Find Archived Obituaries in Wisconsin for Free

Wisconsin offers a few library systems and one main archive system for the digitization of records. However, when compared to a few other states, Wisconsin has limited options. That said, some systems allow you to search as far back as the 1800s. 

As long as you have a few key details to begin with, Wisconsin offers completely free online obituaries that you can access in full, particularly if the death and obituary occurred from about 1980 onward.

Some areas of Wisconsin also have fairly easy access to records from 1960 and beyond, too. For records prior to that, however, you may need to provide some more information upfront and wait till you can fully access the record in person. 

Tips for Googling

For more recent obituaries (especially 1980 and beyond), you probably don’t even have to go directly to the specific area’s newspaper. Instead, you can complete a general Google search. 

For example, making a spelling error in your search can send you in the wrong direction. Even if you’re certain that you've spelled the person’s name correctly or you believe he or she passed away in a certain place, try modifying your searches slightly. Use varied spellings of the person’s name. This can help you just in case you find a discrepancy in the records.

You should also take advantage of things like advanced search tools. This means isolating them to certain dates. This can help you filter out irrelevant results. 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 “Edgar Peterson.” If you believe this person passed away in Madison, Wisconsin, then you can also put separate quotes around “Madison.”

Search through library resources

If you know some basic details about the person, such as a name and where he or she passed away, you can use a variety of free library resources in Wisconsin. Some of these resources may provide access online or you might have to arrange an in-person visit. 

In-person visits can connect you with library professionals who may have an easier time using their systems. It also wouldn’t hurt to call your library of choice to see if you can get assistance over the phone. 

Take a look at a few different library systems to know about in Wisconsin:

  • Oshkosh Public Library: This library system has an index of newspaper archives that go back to the 1800s. If all goes well, you should get a comprehensive list of anyone with the name you're searching for who had an obituary published in a particular time period. You can't access the actual obituary, but you can get the name and date of the publication. You can then get directed to the proper library to find the physical record. 
  • Madison Public Library: This library system doesn't offer comprehensive online lists like the Oshkosh Public Library. You can still access the records online in some form. However, information published in a local area paper prior to 1960 will require a written, verbal, or email request with as much detail as possible to even verify that the obituary exists.

Using LINKcat via the Madison Public Library

The Madison public library system houses the main digital archive resource. But what is LINKcat? LINKcat allows you to access more than three million records and 800,000 different titles — not just from Madison County. This system pools from seven different counties in the southern central part of the state. However, this system only covers records from 1960 to 2002.

In order to use the LINKcat system, you need a current library card. If you find a record in the system that you cannot access online or would like to look at in person, you can have it shipped to your closest library of choice. 

Ask around in your network

You can also ask around in your network for a free, easy way to locate obituaries without a library system. Even if you’re also the direct loved one of the deceased person, it still won’t hurt to ask around. For example, you might have been young when the person passed away.

But what if you hesitate to ask about certain loved ones or about the deceased person? It’s understandable to lose track of records like obituaries from strained relationships, especially if the deceased individual was estranged. 

Don’t let potential discomfort dissuade you. Obituaries can certainly provide you with closure or factual information for genealogical research. If you have honest intentions, you shouldn’t have any issues. Take a look at the predeceased etiquette for obituaries to help you locate other surviving family members to ask.

Search social media 

Beyond general search engines like Google, social media offers the easiest (and free) method of finding copious amounts of information about friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers.  

Many people share both mundane and intimate personal information willingly with their networks all the time. Things like obituaries can certainly fall into this category, as well as other memorialization information.

Perhaps you may stumble upon a mutual friend or family member closely connected with the deceased person right off the bat. If you two are already connected, you should be able to look through his or her posts. If you know around what time of year the person passed away, you can scroll back to these dates. However, if you don’t have any luck, you can send him or her a friendly and honest message asking for information.

If you find a profile of someone you’re not connected with on social media, you shouldn’t feel bad about searching for an obituary on social media (as long as you have sincere intentions). You can choose to message the person to ask about the obituary directly. If you’re courteous and honest, you shouldn’t have any issues. 

Other Ways You Can Find Old Obituaries in Wisconsin

If you haven’t yet found the obituary you’re looking for, don’t worry — you can tap into a few other ways. Maybe you’ve had success and just want a few more tips for searching. In fact, these search methods should help you, whether you're searching for personal or professional information.

Search for Wisconsin death certificates

Instead of tirelessly searching with potentially incorrect details, it may benefit you to locate the person’s death certificate to verify details first.

Though obituaries have tons of specific biographical and fairly personal information, a death certificate can confirm the date of death, place of death, and, fundamentally, the spelling of the person’s name. However, keep in mind that you'll pay something for most methods of acquiring death certificates. 

Use a paid search engine

Try all of your free methods of searching before trying a paid one. However, in states like Wisconsin, which have more limited online records, it might save you a headache. Therefore, some paid services worth looking into include Family Search, Ancestry.com, and Geneaology Bank.

What to do if you can’t find an obituary (or a good one)

You probably don't want to create unnecessary work for yourself. However, you may agree with this: “If you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.” If you’ve tried all of the methods, steps, and tips in this post and still cannot find an obituary, you may need to write a new one. 

Maybe once you start looking around, you’ll end up finding the obituary anyway. However, you might not like how it’s written or even believe some details are incorrect. There’s nothing wrong with writing an obituary for your own records or genealogy research, even if you can’t change it in the archives.

You may find yourself needing to write an obituary in the near future anyway, so learn some tips for how to write an obituary. They shouldn't take much time to put together, which might surprise you. They’re quite formulaic in nature and you can follow the standards for what’s written in them. Also, sometimes people write their own obituaries. Read through the tips on how to write an obituary for yourself.

A Missing Obituary Doesn’t Mean a Forgotten Loved One 

Though not being able to find an obituary archive in Wisconsin may seem frustrating, it doesn’t mean that your loved one was totally forgotten. 

However, finding an obituary archive successfully (which you likely will!) may also inspire you to reflect or share a bit more about your loved one. It all comes down to how your family honors a loved one's memory. 

Cake can help you preserve a loved one’s wishes and legacy starting today (or preserve your own). You can find all kinds of end-of-life resources on Cake, including a free end-of-life planning tool for you and your loved ones. 


Sources:
  1. Wisconsin Libraries. Public Libraries. publiclibraries.com
  2. Oshkosh Public Library. Oshkosh Public Library. oshkoshpubliclibrary.org
  3. Madison Public Library. Madison Public Library. madisonpubliclibrary.org
  4. About LINKcat. Madison Public Library. madisonpubliclibrary.org/linkcat

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