Valuable Genealogy Resource: Recent Obituaries Collection

Introduction: In this article, Duncan Kuehn describes the different kinds of obituary-type newspaper articles that can help fill in the details on your family tree. Duncan is a professional genealogist with over nine years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Along with the census, newspaper obituaries are a key resource for genealogists. If you’re researching the more recent members of your family tree, then GenealogyBank’s online Recent Obituaries collection (from 1977 to Today) may provide important facts and clues to fill in the details of your family tree.

You will find different types of articles providing death information in the Recent Obituaries collection. This article will describe several of them.

Death Notices

A death notice is a short informational item run in the newspaper to announce the death and provide details about the funeral. These are sometimes posted immediately after the death and may reappear on the day of the funeral. A death notice may run in multiple newspapers.

A death notice for Oscar Pearson, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 1 October 2011
Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 1 October 2011


An obituary is a full-length article giving biographical information about a deceased individual. An obituary can be written by the newspaper staff or submitted to the newspaper by friends or family members of the decedent. Some newspapers use the term “obituary” for articles written by their staff and “death notice” for those submitted to the paper. For our purposes, I have chosen to define the two terms by length and content – an obituary being a longer article, including biographical information, and a death notice being a very short announcement.

Historically, newspapers did not charge for obituaries and many of them are very lengthy and include photographs. You can find long biographies with excellent information for a genealogist.

Obituaries can run over several weeks in the newspaper. This may explain why multiple entries appear for the same person. Obituaries are usually written days or even weeks after the death occurred. And they may even appear in the paper after the funeral has taken place.

Obituaries, like death notices, may run in multiple papers. They may appear throughout the community where the person died. They may also appear in newspapers where the individual grew up or spent their working years. They may even appear in newspapers where close family members live, even if the decedent never lived there. Because of this, it is wise to search nationwide for obituaries.

An obituary for Oscar Pearson, Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspaper article 29 September 2011
Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), 29 September 2011

Here is another example of a recent obituary.

An obituary for George Brentar, Plain Dealer newspaper article 13 October 2007
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 13 October 2007

Memorial Articles

Friends and/or family members will sometimes post a notice on the anniversary of the death of their loved one to memorialize their passing. These articles vary in length but are generally fairly short and tender.

A memorial notice for George Brentar, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 October 2015
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 October 2015

Human Interest Stories

These are longer articles written by the newspaper staff about the death of individuals significant to the community. They may have caught the editor’s eye because the death was unusually tragic, the person was well known in the community, or the person’s life story is of interest to a wide readership.

An article about Jason West and George Brentar, Plain Dealer newspaper article 10 May 2008
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 May 2008

Of course, obituaries are not a recent phenomenon. Obituaries prior to 1977 can be found in GenealogyBank’s online Historical Obituaries collection.

Obituaries hold significant, valuable information for genealogists. Be sure to incorporate obituaries in all your family history information – both for the facts they contain, as well as the family history clues they provide for further genealogy research.

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