Friday, April 3, 2015

Dear Randy: How Would You Search for Obituaries Efficiently?

Reader Mary Beth asked an interesting question in email recently:

"Over the years I’ve located almost 1,000 obituaries for people in my family tree.  They are invaluable for the obvious vital data plus the family relationships they outline.

"I still have almost 600 U.S. obituaries to look for and would love your opinion on the most time efficient to look for such a large number.  My time frame is 1880’s forward with most being in the 1900's.  Ideally I would love to down load my GEDCOM to a genealogy site and let them tell me the matches. is weak in the obituary department.  I have explored the ‘few' obituary matches already.  Few as a percentage of the total number of 3,000 people in my tree.

"Any thoughts on a time efficient way to do this or clues on how you’d proceed when I exhaust the efficient ideas."

After pondering the question for an hour or so, the simple answer seems to be "No - there are no time efficient ways to do this easily for a number of ancestors."  

The only database that provides Record Hints for newspaper articles is MyHeritage. does not do this for their newspaper collection - you have to manually search like other sites.

FamilySearch has millions of indexed obituaries, with many more coming online soon, but you would have to search them one target, and probably one record collection, at a time.

Some thoughts on how I would do this:

*  I would organize the obituaries I want to find by surname - perhaps list the targets in a spreadsheet or a word processing table - alphabetically by surname, then first name, with birth and death dates, and death location.  

*  I would add columns for major online newspaper databases (e.g., Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank,, Chronicling America, Elephind, Legacy, Tributes, Google, others) and check them off as you search.  I have a set of online Historical Newspaper links on

*  The low hanging fruit are probably those that died as adults with a specific death date and location.  The specific date enables me to narrow your search (I would use plus or minus two years in case the death date is wrong).  

*  Searching for specific first and last names, with a place name and a death date range, is probably the most time efficient method in each database set.  Using just the last name will find too many matches in many databases.  Adding keywords to search on children's and spouses first names could narrow the search for common names.

I love Mary Beth's vision - upload a GEDCOM file to a website, and tell it to search selected websites for matches to persons in your GEDCOM while you go about your daily activities.  

Do my readers have ideas for Mary Beth?  Please make a comment if you have a time efficient idea.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

I would recommend organizing by death location if known. Many local libraries have local paper death indexes that are online. Sort next by date of death or surname depending on how the index may be built. The paper may not be digitized but libraries will provide image copies for small fees in many cases. Also many contributors have added obit transcripts to Find a Grave. These steps may help.

BigBearFreddy said...

Since FamilySearch is indexing obituaries at the moment, shouldn't we expect to see them appear as soon hint pretty soon?