African American Obituaries
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Obituaries provide such information as the deceased’s name; age; birth date and place, including foreign town and country of birth; and parents’ names. They also contain the names and residences of living children, relatives, or other family members; maiden name; and occupation. Previously deceased family members are frequently mentioned. They may also indicate previous places of residence, immigration information, religion, and any social organizations or activities the deceased was involved in.
Obituary files may be kept in local public libraries and by newspaper publishers. Some obituaries have also been published and indexed in genealogical periodicals that are available in the Family History Library. These are referenced in the "Places" section of the PERiodical Source Index (PERSI), which is described in United States Periodicals.
Use obituaries to:
- Find information about your ancestor, such as birth, marriage, death, and burial
- Learn the names of family members, such as parents, spouse(s), children, brothers, and sisters
A few obituaries were published in the 1800s, but the practice became common only after 1900. Obituaries range from one-line death notices to biographies of several paragraphs. They may give:
- Full name (including maiden name for women)
- Death date and place
- Burial date and place
- parents' names
- membership in religious or charity groups
- Biographical information
- Places of residence
- Names and places of residence of surviving children and grandchildren
Searching Obituary Records
Before searching obituary records you must know:
- Your ancestor's name at death (including a woman's married surname)
- Your ancestor's approximate death date
- The town or county where you ancestor lived or died or where the funeral occurred
To find newspaper obituaries from a library in the town of your ancestor's funeral:
- Find a library at www.switchboard.com and write down the telephone number. The listings are arranged by state, then county or town. Libraries are listed according to their distance from a given address, such as an ancestor's place of death.
- Call the librarian and ask if they will search obituaries and send you a copy or lend obituary records to your local library.
- Ask which records are likely to have your ancestor's obituary.
- Ask what information you need to request the copy for an interlibrary loan.
To find newspapers and obituary indexes in your ancestor's area, the following sources are helpful:
- Obituaries: A Guide to Sources, 2nd ed., by Betty M. Jarboe, 1989. (FHL book 973 V43j.) Lists over 3,500 sources of obituary indexes and abstracts, arranged by state, then author or title. Includes an appendix that describes obituary indexes at major libraries in 18 states.
- Newspapers in Microform: United States, 1948-1983, Library of Congress, 1984. (FHL book 011.35 N479s; film 1145942.) Arranged by state, then town. Lists newspaper title, years of operation, parent and spin-off papers, and places where microforms are available.
- Gale Director of Publications and Broadcast Media, annual, 4 volumes, Gale Research. (FHL book 970 B34a.) Arrantged by state, then town. Lists addresses and telephone numbers of current newspapers and publishers.
- Some people had more than one obituary. If you find a short death notice, look for a longer obituary in a later newspaper.
- Small-town newspapers often print more detailed obituaries than larger newspapers do.
- Newspapers sometimes report the gathering of relatives during an illness or after a death. If you do not find an obituary for your ancestor on their death date, search the newspaper for two weeks before and two weeks after.
- Look for newspapers at the newspaper office or a library in your ancestor's town. The Family History Library and family history centers have indexes to obituaries and newspaper collecitons, but few actual records.
- Most newspaper publishers will not search their files for you, but some will photocopy an article if you can provide a specific date and event.