When doing family history research, obituaries can be a rich source of information.
Obituaries are short biographies published in local newspapers about someone who has died recently. You may also find death notices or funeral notices in the newspaper. They are even more brief, but are helpful to verify a place and date of death.
Obituaries might include:
- Names of family members
- Place of burial or interment
- Occupation of the deceased
- Deceased person's home address
Obituaries aren’t always easy to find. Not everyone has an obituary. Most of the time, it’s up to the family and friends of the deceased person to place an obituary or death notice. Often, there is a fee to get an obituary published, and that may stop some families from submitting one. You might be looking for something that doesn’t exist.
Step one: Find the date of death
The date of death gives you a time frame for your search. An obituary might be published very soon after the death — or weeks later.
If you don’t know the date of death, try searching the relevant vital records archive. This at least gives you a starting point in time for your search.
Once you know what time period you are going to search, you will need to determine where you should look.
Step two: Search newspaper obituaries
An obituary is most likely to be in a local newspaper where the person had some connection.
This might include:
- The place where the person spent the majority of their life
- Where they were born
- Anywhere they lived for a long time
- The last place they lived
- Where their extended family lived
The library has digital archives of The Oregonian (link) 1861-present, and the Oregon Journal (link) from 1902-1982. If you need obituaries from other Oregon communities, try the University of Oregon Libraries’ Historic Oregon Newspapers. It includes 19th and early 20th century newspapers published in cities and towns across Oregon, plus some from recent decades.
For obituaries outside of the Portland area, the library is more likely to have newspaper databases that cover recent decades than ones older than the 1990s. Ask a librarian for help if you aren’t sure where to look!
Librarians can help you find the names of relevant newspapers if you aren’t sure.
If you are looking for an obituary in another state, you may be able to contact the library in that location for assistance.
Step three: Where else are obituaries published?
Your search may take you beyond the resources available at a public library. Obituaries are sometimes published in other places.
An obituary might have been published by an organization where the person had some connection like:
- An alumni association newsletter
- A publication related to an organization or hobby that the deceased was involved in
- A newsletter from a church or other religious community
You can also search online, where many universities, churches and other organizations might have published an obituary on their website. Additional possibilities include:
- A funeral home’s website
- Websites that compile obituaries from a variety of online sources
- A personal website or memorial social media page maintained by family or friends