How to Find Obituaries Online

Headstone detail at Park Street Cemetery.
April Maciborka/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

You can find nearly anything on the web; however, obituaries, published daily in nearly every newspaper around the world, aren't so easy to find online.

In fact, since most newspapers do not publish digital archives of their papers online, finding obituaries usually ends up being an offline research task.

Although much information is free, some public records require a nominal fee at the time of access, usually in person at a county records office. Depending on where you are geographically, a fee could be applicable. Read Should I Pay to Find People Online? for more information on this subject, and when it does not make sense to pay for information you're looking for on the web. 

Plan Ahead

To improve the efficiency of your obituary searches, you'll need to collect basic demographic information about the deceased. Also, because most obituaries are initially printed in newspapers, it's helpful if you knew the name and location of the newspaper in which the obituary was printed, as well as the date of the obituary. (The date won't necessarily be the date of the person's death.)

Collect as much of the following data as you can:

  1. Name

  2. Birth and death dates and location

  3. Last known residence, at least at a city level

  4. Social Security number

  5. State in which the Social Security card was issued

Social Security Death Index

If you don't know the exact date of death, you can use the Social Security Death Index to find out this information. You'll still need the person first and last name in order to use this resource, which is free to access. The SSDI will reveal basic information about the person, the person's state and approximate death date.

Search Newspaper Archives

After you have as much information as you can find about your person, it's time to start thinking about which newspaper their obituary might appear. Without knowing the specific city and state of the person's residence at the time of his or her death, your chances of finding their obituary become very slim, so this information is vital. If you have the city and state of your person, you can start searching online newspaper archives. Here are a few to get you started:

    1. Google Newspaper Archives: Over 200 years of archives to peruse here.
    2. US News Archives: Specific paper archives.
    3. International News Archives: Links to global archives.

If the obituary you're looking for is fairly recent (within the last 30 days or so), there's a good chance you'll be able to find it online at the newspaper's website.

Check the Library's Archives

Find out which libraries in your local area offer access to digitized newspaper archives. You can find a list of libraries at Library Search or the Library Locator.

You can also search the fantastic resource that is WorldCat, a site that "lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world." Archival content is freely accessible here, and if you get stumped, you can even ask for help from a real librarian.