How to locate an obituary online?
The place to start is with a quick online search for FirstName MiddleName BirthSurname [MarriedSurname] along with a city .. city of birth, suspected place of death, or a city you know the person lived in. (Any search engine will give you most of the possible variants in the search results, I myself prefer the Google format.) Then it’s just a matter of trudging through the returns. You eliminate most of the useless results by adding the city. Don’t stop looking at results after you check the first page (unless they stop showing your search names). The gem you’re hunting for may be on the second, third or fourth page!
In the case of those truly common surnames (and my tree has lots of them!) I start with the full names of husband and wife along with a place. It narrows things down considerably .. (though it is surprising just how many John Doe’s married Jane Roe’s).
This approach will sometimes turn up both individual obits plus a marriage record .. for both of them .. or a child! (Another variant is an ancestor’s full name, followed by a comma, and then the full name of a child — the married last name for a female child — and a place.)
Know your search engine: Do you need quotes around full names? is a key question to find out at the outset. (For example, Google doesn’t need quotes around names, and will return the name Robert Wilson as a full name, before listing Robert only matches. But to prevent finding hundreds of Robert matches right up front, Newspaper.com needs “Robert Wilson“)
No luck? Time to move along to a free newspaper site. If you haven’t found your way to the Google newspaper archive (not that they make finding it easy!), it’s the place to start.
Read an updated post on using the Ottawa Journal on ancestry.com, and on using the Google newspaper archive here.
Check the newspaper archive list by town and title. If you don’t know the names of the historic local papers for the period you’re researching, do a quick online search for Historic Newspapers In.. and add a city, county or region. You’ll want all of those variant names to see if they’re in the free archive. In some areas, and in some eras, papers changed names frequently, and disappeared, then re-appeared. When the county or town changed its name .. so did the papers .. viz. Bytown becomes Ottawa.
Hunting for obituaries can also end up teaching you some valuable regional naming history that you’ll find really useful in later research!
Hopefully you’ve struck gold! But if not there are two other strategies left: a pay for use newspaper archive, and researching microfilms in a library or archives.
1. Among the pay for use sites, there are 2 that I have found most helpful for my Canada research: Newspapers.com and PaperOfRecord.com
Before choosing any pay site to spend your hard-earned money on, a little prep work is called for. Always check the list of available papers first thing. (Here for papers on Newspapers.com and PaperofRecord.com) Make sure there are materials that can be of help.
Then check the subscription options. For newspaper research, because it can be conducted at specific periods of times, you might want to consider a month at a time plan, or a few months only — subscribing only at those times when you’ll have time to use the site and so get your money’s worth. Always turn off the auto-renew feature! Time really does fly when auto-renew is at work. You might have finished your research, but your credit card will still be at work! (I have a cousin who subscribes to family history research sites only in winter months when she knows she’ll have time to spend lots of evenings researching.)
Newspapers.com is owned by ancestry.com, which offers combination subscriptions to both sites plus a military record site called Fold3.com
2. Sometimes the only way to an obituary (or any information at all) is through a library or archives in the area your ancestor lived. Don’t think of this as a last resort. It is for certain your best source! I am a great fan of local archives and libraries. The folks you’ll find to help you there are your best resources! In many, many local libraries or genealogy/local history society archives, you’ll find obituary indexes for local papers that will take you to the exact page and column of an obituary .. and much more. Local histories, family histories, and such things as tax rolls and property valuations are a few of the other things you can find too. See my posts on local archives and big city library research trips for more on local library and archives resources