See also: How to write an obituary
An obituary is a notice of death for an individual giving the death details and other details about the person's life. Obituaries are a basic record source that genealogists seek while conducting family history research. While the amount of information found in an obituary can range from one sentence to long prose, it can be a gold mine for genealogists.
Information found in obituaries
An obituary could contain a lot of genealogical information about our deceased ancestors. Genealogists should always try to locate an obituary during their research journey, as it could include information not previously known. Some information that could be included in an obituary are:
- Name: The name of the deceased will be in the obituary. Sometimes this will include the full name, a middle name, maiden names, married names, and even nicknames.
- Vital Information: Vital information such as birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates could be listed in an obituary, along with the deceased age at death.
- Family Members: Obituaries historically have listed the deceased family members if they are known. They could be listed as those that have predeceased the individual and those that survive the deceased. Family members such as parents, spouses, children, grandchildren and even nieces and nephews.
- Church Affiliation: If a person was a member of a particular denomination or a specific local church, that information could be listed in the obituary. In fact, many times the funeral services could be held at the church the deceased attended.
- Career Information: Many obituaries could give information about the deceased's work history, including where they worked, how long they worked there and any noted accomplishments in their career.
- Military Service Information: An individual's military service can be listed in an obituary. This information could include the branch of service, wars they were involved in, if they were retired and the years of service they have given to their country.
- Burial Information: Obituaries can include the date of burial and the name and location of the cemetery where the deceased is to be buried.
Where to find obituaries
Obituaries are historically published in newspapers. In modern times, obituaries can also be found on funeral home websites and other internet-based sources in addition to newspapers. Some of the places you might find original obituaries clipped from a newspaper are:
- Newspapers: Obituaries have historically been a staple of the local newspaper. Published obituaries have been showing up in newspapers as early as the 1600s. Many newspapers printed an obituary for free, but some newspapers charged for this service, which meant some of our ancestors couldn’t afford to pay for this service, and their obituary didn’t get published. You can search for obituaries on MyHeritage under the newspapers records collection or under the death, burial, cemetery & obituaries record collection.
- Funeral home records: Obituaries were normally generated by the local funeral home or undertaker in talking with the deceased surviving family members. These funeral homes kept a copy of the published obituary in the deceased file along with other death and burial information they collected.
- Scrapbooks: Many individuals clipped obituaries out of the newspaper and pasted them into scrapbooks.
- Family Bible: Many families had a family Bible where important birth, marriage and death dates were recorded. Family members would also clip obituaries out of the newspaper and tuck them into that family Bible.
- Diaries: Some of our ancestors kept diaries and journals. Many of them put items in their diary to go with the stories they wrote, and one of those items were obituaries clipped from newspapers.
- Correspondence: Our ancestors communicated by writing letters and they could have included an obituary clipped from the newspaper with their letter.
Obituaries on MyHeritage
There are many online databases that include obituaries. MyHeritage has many collections of records that include obituaries. There are digitized newspapers that include obituaries in their issues on MyHeritage. The website also has obituaries for specific states in the United States and other countries. Go to the collection catalog and use the search engine and search for “obituary” and there are over 40 different record collections. One of the largest obituary collections on MyHeritage is entitled Newspaper and Funeral Home Obituaries. In this collection, there are over 8 million listings of individual obituaries and images.
You can search directly in the Death, Burial, Cemetery & Obituaries using this search widget:
Obituaries in genealogy
Obituaries could contain that one piece of information that will help tear down a genealogy brick wall. Obituaries that mention family members, deceased or living, could be members the genealogist didn’t know about or couldn’t find until they were named in an obituary.
Explore more about obituaries
- Death, burial, cemetery, and obituary records on MyHeritage
- Newspaper records on MyHeritage
- How to Locate an Obituary for Your U.S. Ancestor, article by Jeniann Nielson on the MyHeritage Knowledge Base
- Obituaries: Clues to Look For. Tips for making sure you get the full benefit from an obituary notice, webinar by Tom Kemp on Legacy Family Tree Webinars
- Grandma's Obituary Box: The Use of Obituaries in Genealogical Research and Their Role in American Culture, webinar by Pam Stone Eagleson, CG on Legacy Family Tree Webinars