March 1, 2023
What is it about reading obituaries that sparks the interest of family history people?
Genealogy is a field with a myriad of details to keep track of, enough to make anyone’s head spin. There are so many places to look—endless, maybe. The internet is only the tip of the iceberg, and each library or archive has its own personality with unique holdings to harbor these minutiae. These details are like an elixir to fuel our sense of adventure and unending exploration for more than a lifetime.
It is this passion and curiosity for the practical details about people that compels us to read the obit columns first. Often, obituaries contain nuggets of detail after detail. Those fragments that try to encapsulate a life in a few short sentences often hold a clue that can break open a formidable brick wall. Not all obituaries are created equal, however. Some are simply and disappointingly just a death notice with a sentence of bare facts of the beginning and end of a life.
The obits that excite descendants get into the details that help to put flesh on the bones and make their ancestor come alive. They can tell us where in the world they lived, who their family was, and the important persons in their lives. The more “meaty” ones can give us a feel for that person as well as list life highlights, organizations they belonged to, memberships, or passions of the deceased.
We all know that newspapers are the best source for finding these gems, but to search them we need to know where the ancestor lived and when they died. More and more newspapers are being digitized now, but the enormity of the task to convert to digital format is almost overwhelming. There is clearly no single host repository.
You can find newspaper obituaries in the following resources:
- In databases like those that MCPL subscribes to, such as
- MyHeritage Library Edition – Look for newspapers in the Categories list.
- Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only) – “U.S., Newspapers.com Obituary Index, 1800s–Current”
- Newspapers database list – Includes a number of digitized newspapers, including the Kansas City Star and Missouri Newspaper Collection
- HeritageHub – Provides access to hundreds of years of obituaries and death notices from thousands of newspapers across the United States
- Search the MCPL online catalog, using:
- keyword: obituary, or obituaries plus the county and/or state
- subject: Obituaries – Indexes
- Online resource sites, including:
- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
- The Ancestor Hunt: Newspaper Links
- Kansas Historical Open Content – Kansas Historical Society digitized newspapers
- Legacy.com: Search Obituaries (from 2000)
- Funeral home websites for 21st century obituaries
- Indexes of obituaries at public library and genealogy society websites, such as:
- MGC Quick Look
- Obituary Indexes – Midwest Historical and Genealogical Society (Wichita, KS)
- Des Moines Public Library Newspaper & Magazine Index
- Order microfilm of newspapers via MGC’s Interlibrary Loan
Keep in mind that obituaries may have cost money to print in the newspapers, so that could be why there is limited or no information. Look for them to be published before the burial date. For early newspapers, find out the publication dates of the newspaper to know if they even exist.
Midwest Genealogy Center
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