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Throughout history, people have sought ways to memorialize deceased loved ones. In recent centuries, obituaries have become the most common way to honor those we’ve lost and share the news of their passing with friends and family. Typically found in newspapers, obituaries became a more common form of remembrance in the early twentieth century. For the family historian, they can include a treasure trove of details, some of which may not appear in writing anywhere else.

What You Can Discover in Obituaries

Typically written by family or close friends, an obituary may include the names and relationships of family members. Often obituaries mention both family who survive the deceased as well as those who died previously. They can be a source for birth, marriage, and death dates and places—as well as parents’ and spouses’ names (including women’s maiden names, if you’re lucky). Obituaries can also include personal details such as occupation, education, military service, involvement in civic and fraternal organizations, religious affiliation, and hobbies and interests. 

All of this information can lead you to new record discoveries. Birth, marriage, and death details can lead you to civil registrations of those events, and possibly religious records. Burial details can help you locate gravesites that may include other family members. And the rich details found in obituaries can make it easier to identify relatives in census records and other collections that are heavily relied on for family history research.

Tips for Obituary Searches on Ancestry®

Ancestry® has the world’s largest, searchable digital archive of obituaries and death announcements. Here are some tips for finding an obituary for a specific person on Ancestry.

Check more than one newspaper.

Don’t limit your search to a single mention in a particular publication. If the person whose obituary you are seeking lived in various locations, check newspapers in those places. Often newspapers picked up obituaries of former residents who had moved on and sometimes expanded on them.

Look for multiple mentions in the same paper.

You might find one mention of your ancestor in a publication, but don’t stop there or you could miss out on valuable information. You might for instance find a notice of death on the day of your ancestor’s death in their local paper. But the following day that same publication may have featured a longer obituary, with more details, like where they were born and their accomplishments.

If you don’t know the exact death date, use an estimate.

You won’t always know the exact date of death, and that’s fine. If you’re using Ancestry, you can try to narrow down the date by tracing your ancestors in other records like U.S. Census records and city directories, the predecessor of phone books. Sometimes when they disappear from these records, it can be a clue that they passed away and thus help pinpoint their death date. Just be aware that disappearing from a record like a city directory doesn’t necessarily mean the person died: You’ll want to check to make sure they didn’t move in with grown children, siblings, or other family members.

Check family trees on Ancestry.

Some family trees on Ancestry are “public,” which means they are viewable by other members. And members can upload images to their family trees. Sometimes members will upload images of obituaries to their family trees, so you could find obituaries for shared ancestors on other members’ trees.

Enrich Your Family Story With Obituaries

Obituaries are often mini biographies of someone's life, rich with details you may not find anywhere else. These insights can help you understand who they were as a person and add to your larger family story. With a name and general publication date, you can start searching obituary records like the Obituary Index: 1800s to current on Ancestry now.