May 12, 2023

Finding Non-Digitized Obits

May 12, 2023

Although many newspapers are now digitized, some are still only available offline. Typically, undigitized newspapers tend to be smaller papers from rural areas – exactly the papers most likely to have published an obit for our ancestors. Luckily, there are ways to obtain obits, even if a newspaper is not available online.


Although we often think of microfilm as outdated technology, it was often used to preserve newspapers. Due to cost constraints and copyright issues, some newspapers have not been digitized and may never be. Local libraries and regional archives typically contain microfilms for their town or county newspapers. University libraries are another possible source of microfilmed newspapers. In addition, state archives and libraries sometimes have microfilmed newspapers for the entire state.


Accessing microfilmed newspapers is usually not difficult if you can visit the repository in person. Remember that microfilmed copies of a certain newspaper may be available in several locations. A few years ago, I wanted to find an obit for a great aunt who’d lived most of her life in Evanston, Wyoming. The Evanston library contained microfilm of the town newspapers. Unfortunately, Evanston is about six hours away from where I live – a long drive for one obit. I knew that most state archives are situated in state capitals. Wyoming’s state capital, Cheyenne, is only thirty miles from my home. I made the half hour drive to Cheyenne and found my obit. It’s always worth checking to see whether what you need is available at a closer location.


Microfilmed newspapers are usually not indexed, so it’s important to have an exact death or burial date. It’s almost impossible to find articles in unindexed newspapers without specific dates. Many newspapers were voluminous, even in small towns. Without a date to check, finding an obit can entail a very long time in front of a microfilm reader.


If a repository visit is not practical, the first step is to call or email the repository. Ask if anyone will do a look up for you. Because they are so sought after, obits are often indexed. These indexes are not necessarily available online.


Another good source for obits is local genealogical societies. These societies often index local obituaries. Be sure to ask whether the local society has someone available to do research for out-of-area genealogists. This can be a good way to obtain non-digitized obituaries.



Carol Stetser