How to find family obituaries in newspapers

Newspapers hold a wealth of information between their pages. This can be especially true if you like to search for tidbits and clues of your ancestors’ lives.

Newspapers generally report two types of notices regarding the death of someone. One is a death notice. It is typically a very simple listing stating the death and possibly the funeral rites of a person. The other type is an obituary. An obituary is what most people are familiar with, and it usually includes more detailed information and can sometimes tell a life story all by itself.

Obituaries and death notices can be a great source for the family historian; however, if you only search these two types of death notices, you might be missing out on valuable information. 

The Death Announcements of Bygone Days

Another type of bereavement announcement you might find in older newspapers is a card of thanks. This was a short note of thanks to people for their cards, flowers, and words of encouragement upon the death of a family member. 

In memoriam is a type of notice about a death. These can be very unique. People would sometimes submit poems to the newspaper to remember their loved ones. 

Depending on the level of education and community involvement of your ancestor, you might be able to find a necrology report. Colleges, universities, and chapters of community organizations have been known to submit articles to newspapers with the deaths of their alumni and members. These types of “reports” give a unique insight into the life of your ancestors.

Even though a card of thanks, in memoriam, and necrology reports are not a common practice in present-day newspapers, don’t let these antique ways of remembering a death slip through your research. 

Keyword Searching – Think Outside the Box

When it comes to searching for the death of your ancestors in newspapers, prepare to get creative. The smallest piece of information could be the ticket to finding that elusive family member. 

Here is a list of information you can use to search:

  • Alternate name spellings
  • Birthdate and location
  • Death date and location
  • Age
  • Marriage date(s)
  • The maiden name of women
  • Names of family members (spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings)
  • Places your ancestor lived
  • Education, schools attended, degrees received
  • Organization memberships
  • Occupation / employment
  • Church affiliation
  • Cemetery 
  • Funeral arrangements 

Sometimes we all need a little help. If you’re searching with the basic personal information and not having any luck, here are some tips and tricks you can use to search for obituaries (and their counterparts) at NewspaperArchive:

Make sure to broaden your search area. I once found an article about my great-great-grandfather in an Oshkosh, Wisconsin newspaper and the Chicago Tribune. He lived in Cincinnati, Ohio! Don’t assume your ancestors will only be in the newspapers of their hometown. 

Where did your ancestors live? Smaller communities typically had everyone’s obituary or death notice listed. Why? The small town newspapers had the space to write about everyone. Plus, the readers of the newspapers thrived on reading about the people of the town and its surrounding areas. Think of it as the social media network of print! Large cities, on the other hand, did not have the newspaper space to include everyone. Only important members of the city or those of high social standing would have an obituary in a large city’s newspaper.

Was your ancestor’s death big news? Sometimes if there were a story around a death (war, accident, etc.), it might have made front-page news.

Don’t stop at the obituary. Reading other parts of the newspaper that includes your ancestor’s obituary gives you something very special – a sneak peek into the life and times of your family member. Read articles, classifieds, social happenings, and advertisements. Immerse yourself in their time.

Can’t wait to start your obituary search? You’ve got the tips and tricks. Now go find those ancestors!

Remember to check out our newspapers dating back to 1607 on

Start Free Trial