Genealogists will often go pretty far out of their way to track down obituaries and funeral notices. And with good reason! An average, non-fancy funeral notice often reveals the names of family members, the place of burial or interment, the deceased’s home address, and other details crucial to family history research. But they can be a challenge to find.
Despite its name, the Oregonian is a local paper and it focuses on readers in the Portland area. So for the most part, it does not include obituaries for Oregonians from other parts of our very large state.
Whose obituaries can you expect to find in the Oregonian?
The vast majority of the funeral notices, death notices, and obituaries in the Oregonian are for people who lived in the Portland area or had some deep Portland connections. They are usually very, very short! Sam Nudelman’s funeral notice (at right), from the August 17, 1944 Oregonian, is a good example. It is brief and to-the-point, listing only Mr. Nudelman's date of death, his address, a short list of his surviving relatives, and information about his funeral services and place of burial.
Sometimes the deaths of prominent figures in Oregon politics, business, or social life were written up in the Oregonian, even if they were from Burns or Salem or Joseph. A person’s statewide fame might make their obituary of local interest despite the fact that they lived and died far away from the Rose City.
However, these notices often have the feel of straight news, rather than obituary. For example, the day after former Oregon senator and long-time Eugenian Wayne Morse died in 1974, the Oregonian ran a full-page-width headline at the very tippy-top of page one (at left).
In the early years of the 20th century and before, obituaries for Oregon “pioneers” (that is, European-American settlers who travelled west to the Oregon country in the mid-19th century or thereabouts) were a regular feature in the Oregonian. And the editors regularly featured obituaries for pioneers who lived and died in other parts of Oregon. An example (at right) is the brief obituary for Mrs. Mary Goodman, of Eugene, from the January 2, 1909 Oregonian.
Are you ready to start searching for an obituary or death notice in the Oregonian?
If you think your ancestor's obituary or death/funeral notice is likely to be in the Oregonian, you can get started by searching for their name in the library's Historical Oregonian (1861-1987). (To use this resource from outside the library, you'll need to log in with your library card number and PIN/password.)
If this resource is new to you, take a look at my tips for searching, or ask the librarian on duty the next time you're in the library in person. Remember, if you don't find an obituary, death notice, or funeral notice that you think really ought to have been in the Oregonian, librarians can always help you think of other ways to search. Get in touch with a librarian for personalized help with your research!
When should you look somewhere other than the Oregonian?
Are you looking for an obituary for a Portland resident, but can’t find it in the Oregonian? Portland has had many other daily and weekly newspapers that ran obituaries over the years. Central Library has long archives of many of these papers for your researching pleasure! If you want to begin your research on your own, take a look at Research with historical Portland newspapers, beyond the Oregonian. If you’d like a hand getting started, ask the librarian on duty in Central Library’s Periodicals room (on the second floor), or contact us to get personalized help from a librarian by phone or email.
If you've done all that great newspaper research but you're not finding an obituary for a Portland ancestor, you might want to try another tack. Take a look at my post Can't find that Portland obituary? Try the Ledger Index instead -- it talks about using an early and surprisingly detailed death index to learn details about a deceased person when there isn't an obituary available.
Did the person you’re researching reside in St. Johns or Gresham? Try looking for a funeral notice or obituary in their local paper. The St. Johns Review had really lovely, robust obituaries in its early years, and most issues of the Review from 1904-1922 are fully searchable in the University of Oregon Libraries’ wonderful Historic Oregon Newspapers database. Multnomah County's own Gresham Library has an archive of the Gresham Outlook going back to 1911; librarians there can help you search, or you can get help from a librarian by phone or email.
If the deceased person you’re looking for lived outside the Portland area (even if they died in Portland or in Multnomah County), look for an obituary or death notice in their hometown paper.
If you’re not sure what the name of that newspaper was, or even if there was a newspaper in print at the time, the next step is to ask the public library in the town where the deceased person resided. Oregon public libraries of all sizes are listed in the Oregon Library Directory. If you need to find a public library in a town outside Oregon, ask us for help the next time you’re at the library, or ask a librarian by phone or email!
Do you want to learn more about family history research with obituaries? My colleague Kate S. walks you through some of the basics in her post on Obituaries 101.
Or, call or email a librarian to get personalized help with your obituaries-related questions. If you’d rather have face-to-face help, ask the librarian on duty the next time you visit the library. We're always happy to help!