It's common for family members, close friends, or the funeral home to place an obituary, or formal written announcement and published notice of a person's death, in the local newspaper. If you're looking to hunt down or want to find an old obituary but don't want to pay a fee, there are several ways to locate old ones - from more recent deaths to those that occurred centuries ago. Regardless of why you're searching, obituaries are a valuable link to the past.
Free Obituary Resources at a Glance
These resources can be helpful starting points in finding obituaries without paying a fee.
- Old newspapers or newspaper archive sites; Legacy.com offers a free newspaper obituary search
- Genealogy websites - some are totally free, like FamilySearch; others, like Ancestry.com offer free trials
- Specific funeral home or funeral home aggregate sites, such as Tribute Archive
- Online memorial websites, such as EverLoved
- State-specific death indexes or obituary resources - check places such as DeathIndexes.com or National Archives Vital Records
- Specific religious or historic archives or websites
Get more key details on each of these types of searches below.
Getting Started With Your Obituary Search
Before beginning your search for an obituary, gather as much information about the deceased as possible. This will help narrow your search and make it more productive. It will help if you know at least one or two of the following pieces of information:
- Full name, including maiden name for women
- Date and place of birth
- Date and place of death
- Places of employment
- Schools attended dates of attendance
- Degrees received
- Family members or next of kin, including spouse, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings
- Cemetery where buried
- Funeral arrangements
Using Online and Print Newspapers to Find Free Obituaries
One of the easiest and most popular places to find free obituaries: the newspaper. Whether in print or online, this is a great starting point if you know where the deceased lived or died.
Use Legacy.com to Search for a Free Obituary
With a catalog of nearly 2,000 newspapers and over 3,000 funeral homes, Legacy.com allows you to search for obits from North America to Australia and New Zealand to the UK and Europe. If you're unsure of the name of the newspaper or newspaper) in the deceased's hometown, under theor obituary search, Legacy.com provides direct links to the obituary page of hundreds of newspapers, including the United States and several English-speaking countries.
To perform an obituary lookup with Legacy, type the individual's first and last name in the search field, then select the country of death. You can further narrow your search down by state, city, and time frame. The site itself does not archive obituaries, so if the person you're looking for did not have an obituary printed in the newspapers listed on the site, you might be out of luck.
Legacy.com also allows you to search for obituaries based on high school, college, city, and newspaper.
Newspaper Archive Sites
Newspaper archive sites are another resource, but you may need more specific information.
- Chronicling America is a free resource from the Library of Congress that offers digitized newspapers from 1770 to 1963, so it can be helpful if you're looking for an older obituary. Use their search tips to find things like death notices.
- Google Newspaper Archives: You can find a multitude of digital newspapers on Google's Newspaper Archives. Though it's been discontinued, there are issues from as early as the 1800s. It can be more difficult to search unless you have specific information, however. Use these Google News Archive search tips for help.
- News archive site trials: Other sites, like NewspaperArchive and Newspapers.com, offer free trials but they are not fully free.
Look for Obituaries in Newspapers at a Public Library
If you live in the same area as the person whose obituary you are searching for, you can check out your local library. Libraries usually subscribe to local and regional newspapers and keep hard copies for several weeks or more.
- Look at microfilm: To obtain a local obituary that was published years ago, ask the librarian to help you search through back issues of newspapers. Older issues are available on microfilm, which you can read in the library on a microfilm machine. Because the microfilm cannot be removed from the library, make sure to bring a pen and paper to record your findings.
- Access digital newspaper subscriptions with your library card: Some libraries also have subscriptions to digitized versions of older newspapers that you can access using your library card information. For example, the Los Angeles Public Library has a digital subscription to Los Angeles Historical Times as well as access to other digitized newspapers.
- Check if your library has an online obituary index: Some libraries also offer digital obituary indexes obtained from local papers for the area. Richland County Library in Columbia, SC, for example, has a Local History & Obituary Index you can access for free, and you can request a full copy of the obituary for a small fee.
Almost all newspapers will publish obituaries on their websites. However, some sites only keep obituary records online for around six months, so this option may only work for a recent death. Some may keep those records longer, but the caveat is they may require a fee or subscription to look further back.
Try Genealogy Websites to Find Free Obituaries
Go back to your roots, or the roots of the deceased, to track down a free obituary. Genealogy websites are a great place to not only find obituaries but other information that could be helpful in tracking down missing obituaries.
Ancestry.com and Its (Brief) Free Trial
For a searchable database of dozens of different types of documents, Ancestry.com has sources from obituaries to census records to ship manifests. The site provides a search option for "Birth, Marriage & Death." Type in as much information on the deceased as you know, including city or state as well as their year of birth. As of now, you only need to be accurate within 10 years. From there, the site will provide a list of possible matches. The findings can be further narrowed to show only "Birth, marriage & death."
It is important to note that Ancestry.com only offers a free two-week trial for new members. The free trial does, however, grant you full access to whatever results your search uncovers, as well as the ability to print copies for your records. You do need to provide your credit card information to get the trial; just don't forget to cancel before trial period ends.
MyHeritage Free Trial
Similar to Ancestry.com, MyHeritage is a genealogy-based site that offers a free trial. It allows you to search obituaries as well as cemetery and burial records. To search, enter as much information as possible. There are options for name, birth date and place, death date and place, residence, and additional keywords. You can search general terms or exact matches. They are BBB accredited and offer a 14-day free trial.
The FamilySearch website is a genealogical resource dedicated to helping people connect with their heritage. It has a free obituary finder page that anyone can use, but you must sign up for an account or through another option like Google, Apple, or Facebook. Although the site was established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the information is not limited to that religion, and is "free of charge to everyone, regardless of tradition, culture, or religious affiliation. "
The Mormon Church Family History Library
The Mormon Church includes obituaries as part of its genealogical research efforts. This information is available to the public and is the world's largest genealogical library. In person, librarians can help guide your search for an old obituary by directing you to the appropriate resource.
The Mennonite Archives includes obituaries for members of the Mennonite faith dating back to 1884. The archive organizes the obituaries alphabetically by last name, alphabetically by maiden name, and year of death, and continually updated each and every year.
Locating Free Obituaries With Funeral Home Websites
Another option for finding obituaries or death notices is to use specific funeral home websites or obituary aggregate sites that gather information from funeral homes they've partnered with.
Search a Specific Funeral Home Site
Search for funeral homes local to the area of the deceased with a simple "Funeral Homes [City, State]" and browse their websites for obituaries. However, you may have luck by starting a search with funeral homes that cover a larger base, including Service Corporation International, which is behind DignityMemorial.com.
Funeral Home or Burial Service Aggregate Sites
Other options are websites that partner with or collect info. from different funeral homes across the nation.
- Tribute Archive is an example - all you need to start is the deceased's first and last name when using Tribute Archive. You can narrow down the net the website casts by adding in the state, location, date, or even keyword. This is a useful tool if you don't have much information to start with
- National Cremation - This nationwide service assists people with planning cremations, but they also have a North American obituary collection on their site.
Locate Obituaries With Memorial Websites
Memorial websites are becoming more common, and they are another place to find information about a person after they've passed. The downside to these is that they are only available if the family members involved with the funeral planning have manually posted them on the websites.
EverLoved: You can do a simple search by city or name to look for an obituary that's been posted on popular memorial site EverLoved.
Never Gone: This completely free memorial site allows a simple search by name, or you can do a more advanced search with details like dates, lcoation, or funeral home.
Finding Free Obituaries by State or Country
You might only know the state or country where the deceased resided, and that's still a good place to start.
Search for a Free Obituary by State
Simply searching "Free Obituaries from [State]" is the easiest way to kick-start a specific state search. Some websites are run by individuals, such as the Old Virginia Obituaries website, while others are maintained by the state. The National Archives Vital Records page contains a wealth of resources to help aid in your free obituary search, including state-specific searches. A few examples of state free obituary websites include:
- Ohio Obituary Index - Search by name and year of death, or more advanced options.
- Indiana State Library Obituary Index - Use general or exact search terms here.
- Boston Library Obituary Database - Search with name, date, and location with this database.
- US GenWeb Nevada - Use the search engine database or browse by county.
- Louisiana Biography and Obituary Index - Locate obituaries by name and death date.
Going the Distance With Death Indexes
DeathIndexes.com also has dozens of state-specific resources for finding obituaries or death notices, death indexes, cemetery records, and more. Many of the options are sorted by county, so it can be an excellent resource if you know the specific state and county or city the deceased person lived in.
Canada National Obituary Databases
There is no database of obituaries maintained by the United States, but Canada does offer a database maintained by the government and is updated on a rolling basis. The Canadian site offers death notices of residents; American residents can seek out death certificate images or information through their state or county officials.
Internet Search for Obituaries
While websites specializing in obituaries and historical records can sometimes offer some fantastic, extensive information, don't discount a simple Internet search through Google or another search engine. If you have the full name of the person, typing, "(Full name) obituary" into the search engine can often yield some very helpful results. The benefit of a search engine over a website is being able to see a list of results from various websites to see which one has the information you're looking for.
Tips for Searching for Obituaries
When searching for an obit, sometimes all those sources can't quite locate what you're looking for. Instead, head to your favorite search engine and give these tips a try. Here's what to search for when you're looking for a free obituary. Quotation marks aren't optional, but drop the parenthesis!
- Search "[First Name Last Name] Obituary [City or state of death or where they most recently lived]"
- Search using familial names of the deceased "[First Name Last Name of Family Member of the Deceased] Obituary [City or State]" - you can also include the name of the deceased outside of the quotation marks
- Search "[Parent First Name Parent Last Name] Obituary [City or State]"
- Consider adding their profession, college, high school, or even hobbies into the search que along with any of the above.
- Consult contributer-based websites like Find a Grave or BillionGraves to add other pertinent information to your search, such as where the deceased are interred, and even narrow down their year of birth and death.
Give search engines lots of specific information to work with when it comes to finding exactly what you want.
A Link to the Past
Obituaries serve an immediate purpose by announcing a person's death and informing friends and family about the memorial service or funeral. Yet many people enjoy looking for old obituaries as a way to fill in the gaps in their family history. When a family member takes the time and effort to uncover more information about someone from decades ago, it provides a wonderful legacy for all family members. Regardless of your purpose in searching for an obituary, there are a variety of relatively easy and inexpensive ways to find them.