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Old Obituaries Tell the Stories of Your Ancestors

Obituaries allow you to learn about the defining moments of your ancestor’s lives. Discover intimate details about your ancestors from the stories and memories published in their obituaries.

Along with obituaries, the articles and announcements published in old newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life. Rich or poor, it was common to be featured in the local newspaper at least once. Whether your ancestor was a prominent figure or living a quiet life, historical newspapers recorded the daily pace of life unfolding around our ancestors. Newspaper clippings may be the only surviving documentation of the lives of your ancestors and details into your family history.

Historical Obituaries Search Tips

  • Broaden Obituary Search - Search surname(s) first
  • The name listed on the obituary may not be the name that you are familiar with especially in historical obituaries.
  • Instead of searching for their full name, try searching for obituaries with just your ancestor's surname and a date range.

Search married and maiden last names

  • When searching for a deceased, married woman, start with her married surname.
  • Also, try another search using her maiden name or previous married name(s) if she was married more than once.
  • You can also search marriage announcements published in newspapers to try and find her maiden name.

Narrow Your Obituary Search & Look for Other Family Members

  • Try narrowing your obituary search by entering the first name of another family member such as a spouse, parent or child.
  • For example, in the 19th Century, it was common for a married woman to be referred to as "wife of John Smith" without mentioning her first name.

Find Your Ancestor's Date of Death

  • Try searching the Social Security Death Index to find your ancestor's exact date of death before searching for their obituary in the newspaper archives.
  • With their date of death try using a date range of a year or two after they died.
  • This can help you find their obituary and locate any memorial articles that may have run in the newspapers about their passing.

Do not use the exact date of death in your search.

  • Obituaries are often published days or even weeks after a person's death.
  • If the ancestor you are looking for died in the last few months of a year, be sure to include the following year in the date range to cast a wider net to find the obituary.
  • Try searching cemetery and funeral home records to further narrow your date range. 

If you are searching for a deceased relative who passed after 2016, use our Recent Obituaries collection instead. 

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