Free old newspaper obituaries are available to anyone who needs them if you find yourself in a situation where you need to find a past obituary without paying a fee. However, you may have to do a little legwork to see them.
Search for a Newspaper Obituary Online
The best places to search for past obituaries are online via your computer or in a library in the newspaper archives. If you're searching online, give the following websites a try to see if you can find the proper obituary.
The Library of Congress's website Chronicling America has scanned images of newspapers dating back as far as 1690. For searchers who have a good idea of the date of death, location of death, and name, you may find searching these pages helpful. Use the U.S. Newspaper Directory search options to get started if you have a general idea of when and where the obituary would have been published and then start looking through their scans. Over 150,000 newspapers are included.
Legacy.com works with newspapers across the nation. Search back to the year 2000 for older obituaries that appeared in the newspapers in their archive. All 50 states and even countries outside the U.S. have some papers included that are viewable for free. However, if you need an obituary that appeared in a paper not included on the website or one from earlier than the year 2000, you'll likely need to search elsewhere.
Archives for Newspapers Online
If you know the newspaper where the obituary would have been published, you can often search their archives. Some local newspapers let you search for free while others limit searches for non-subscribing readers. It's best to have as much information as possible in the latter situation so you can make the most of your search. Keep in mind online archives are usually limited in how far back they go. Each will differ in their policies, but it is an option to consider.
Find Free Old Newspaper Obituaries in Person
Finding a physical copy of an old obituary to view or have in person can be a difficult task. Check with multiple resources to locate the one you want.
Newspaper offices may archive copies of their past editions for historical purposes in a bound edition by time periods (frequently 6 months to a year). If you stop into the local newspaper, you might be allowed to view a particular year's book or edition for free. However, do not expect to make copies or take photographs of the obituary itself.
Call before you visit if the newspaper is out of town to find out if this is a free option they offer, as not all will allow it, and the ones who do may have rules regarding their use.
If you go to the library near where your loved one lived, you may have better luck finding information pertinent to his or her life. Step into your local library and ask the librarian where obituary archives are kept.
- Microfilm - Usually the old newsprint is available for all, at no cost, on microfilm. The librarian will let you read this microfilm through a machine that will project it onto a screen. You can quickly scan through the slides to find the right name and date.
- Bound books - Like the newspaper office, the library may bind their newspapers by year to preserve a copy for posterity. You should start with the correct year and search from there. Be careful with pages so older ones do not break.
In rural areas or smaller towns, you may have some luck calling upon the local genealogy experts. The librarians and/or newspaper reporters often know who these local gurus are and can get you in contact with them. A quick phone call or email may yield you surprising results that end in a copy of the newspaper obituary you need.
Find the Right Obituary
Before you start your search, it's important to have as much information as possible. Names are often passed down through generations so it's best to have a timeframe and location as well. Then your search won't be as wide, and you'll determine if there's a copy of the newspaper obituary available for free in a more timely manner.