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How to Search for an Obituary

    Searching: Strategy and Techniques

    • 1). Learn everything you can about the individual: complete name, parents' names, date and place of birth and death, place of residence and occupation. If the name is common, any of these clues might be necessary to identify the proper notice among dozens that could turn up in a search.

      You might need to do some phone work in your research--calling relatives, for example, or calling friends of the deceased. If you know only a little about the individual, contact the source that notified you about the death--or the possible death. A state or county public-records office might be able to help.

    • 2). An Internet search might help. Many periodicals are searchable online, and some funeral homes have websites that list deaths--even if there has been no funeral service.

      If you get lots of search results, as you might if the name is common, narrow the search by adding terms from the research you've done.

      Some Internet sites will search the web for a fee, specifically for obits.

    • 3). If the Internet search has turned up nothing definitive, you'll need to spend some money on one or two of the fee-based, online periodical databases. These are collections of hundreds of newspapers, going back many years. Even the fee-based sites that search the web can't get material from these databases.

      Sometimes there are special fields that make searching easier: You might be able to specify that you're looking for an obituary, or you might be able to search within a certain date range.

      The best databases are Lexis-Nexis and Factiva. You can find them on the Internet. You'll need to take out a subscription, but it is free. Search results will be headlines and lead sentences. You will have to pay for each article you open to read the full text. To read an article will cost about $3--and you can pay by credit card.

    • 4). If the name you're searching for is common and you don't have much supporting information, you might get too many responses, or you might find nothing at all.

      In these cases, you'll need to do specialized research. Make a list of every person or organization that might be able to help. Contact each one, starting with the most likely. Call the local newspaper of the deceased's place of residence--not all newspapers are in the online databases.

      In general, the earlier the date of death, the more difficult your search will be. If the death took place long ago, you may have to go to a physical archive to search the print editions of a newspaper.

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