The Journey of Remembrance – Navigating Obituary Searches for Family History

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Obituaries can be a valuable source of family history information. They can provide clues about a person’s spouse, children, parents, siblings and other relatives. They can also reveal their current and previous residences, leading to research in city directories, census records, property records, school publications and more.

To maximize your search results, use variations of an ancestor’s name and search multiple resources.

Obituary Collections

Obituary records provide a unique perspective of a deceased person. They are a treasure trove of clues that can be used to connect the dots in an ancestor’s life. They are also a record of an era’s social and cultural norms.

There are several ways to locate obituary information, including newspaper collections. An obituary page has over 37 million indexed obituaries, and their partnership has made it even more available online. Having as much accurate information on the person as possible is important when searching obituaries. This will help you avoid searching for a duplicate obituary and make it easier to determine whether or not an obituary is relevant to your research.

When tracing family history or paying respects, a common practice is to search obituaries by name, utilizing online databases and archives to find relevant and meaningful information about loved ones.

Be sure to search in other places, such as genealogy websites, public libraries, state digital newspaper programs, and other online resources. Evaluate the obituary in the context of the information you have found elsewhere, especially regarding dates and locations. You may not find an obituary for every death on your family tree, but don’t give up!


Newspapers are an amazing source of information about the time and place where your ancestors lived. In addition to notices of birth, marriage, and death (obituaries), newspapers often report court cases, accidents, and other newsworthy events that might be helpful to your research.

They also provide a window into everyday life through photos, advertisements and letters to the editor. Whether your family members were immigrants passing through Ellis Island, farmers during the Dust Bowl, or soldiers fighting in World War II, newspapers will help you understand their experiences with firsthand accounts of what it was like on a local, state, and national level.

A city newspaper can be especially helpful in gaining a better understanding of the place where your ancestors lived. Browse ads for houses, servants, nannies, and other household staff, entertainment and leisure articles, weather reports, and transportation schedules to learn more about the world your ancestors lived in.

Newspaper Searches

The day’s news often provides information that adds depth and dimension to family history research. Newspapers can help fill in details of daily life that may not be captured in other sources, such as family stories, birth and death announcements, and social event details that help provide context for where an ancestor lived and worked.

To navigate your newspaper searches for the most success, start with what you know about your ancestors. Writing down these facts will help you focus your search and narrow down the results to those most likely related to your ancestor.

Experiment with different combinations of keywords, year ranges and places. Try searching for a first and last name; use honorifics (Dr., Colonel, etc.); and don’t forget to include their spouse’s name if known.

Also, remember to check out the full-text option of a newspaper database. This allows you to manually browse newspaper pages for articles an index may have missed or omitted from uploaded OCR text. You can also explore other newspapers in a locality where your ancestors lived to capture more regional news coverage.

Newspaper Indexes

Old newspapers can provide startling headlines, amusing anecdotes and a window into the lives of everyday people at particular times in history. The newspaper archives can be a valuable research tool for family historians. However, the archives can be overwhelming. It’s important to focus your search on a single person at a time. This helps narrow your results and keeps you from getting distracted by articles that may not be related to your ancestors.

It’s also good to search by record category on the left side of the Newspaper Archives search page. This includes categories like Historical Obituaries, Birth Records, Marriage Records and Passenger Lists. For example, searching for the last name Shaubut in the Historical Obituaries category produced 38 matches, including several obituaries, an adoption, and a court case.

Another option is to search general subject indexes. These are indexed by subjects such as “Accidents,” “Floods,” and “Roads.” You can often broaden your search by truncating the first name; for example, by searching for the last name, Jordan will find names with similar beginnings (West, Westley, Westlake, etc).

Newspaper Websites

Obituaries provide a treasure trove of information about the lives of our ancestors. They can give us a snapshot of their career, hobbies, community service, personality traits and family connections that can be hard to uncover elsewhere.

Many subscription and free sites include old newspaper collections and indexes. Check these sites regularly; they constantly upload and index new newspaper pages.

In addition to containing obituary information, old newspapers often have clues that lead you to other records. For example, an obituary might note that your ancestor was a veteran of a certain war, which could lead you to military records. An obituary might mention that your ancestor was affiliated with a church or society, which could lead you to those organizations’ documents. Many obituary indexes list the church and society and their contact information so you can easily look up more details. This is a great way to start your search.

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