Finding Obituaries in Arizona
Any genealogical research will hit a wall without reference to death records and obituaries. As death records can be harder to obtain due to statutes of limitations that make these records confidential and usually span a few decades, obituaries are often a more accessible source of information about our ancestors.
One thing to bear in mind before you start on a search for an obituary is that things don't always happen as fast as you want them to. Although all newspapers have some sort of an obituary or a death notice section, this may not have been true for a particular newspaper a few decades ago. What's more, no newspaper publishes obituaries about all the citizens in the area that pass away every day, which may further complicate things. Still, there is a range of options to consider and choose from. Here are some of them:
A good start would be checking online databases about obituaries in Arizona, such as the Arizona Obituary Archive. The database contains more than 70,000 obituaries and you can search individual documents by name of the deceased or by text, if you know what the obituary featured or might have talked about.
Another database is available at Arizona Obituaries at Tributes. Here you can search all the latest obituaries for a certain town or city. The default settings display the 20 latest death notices for the location, but there is an additional search tool available if you want to expand the range of the search or even choose a particular year, if you know when the death occurred.
Death certificates in Arizona are available from the Department of Health Services. Arizona is a "closed record" state, which means that no vital record is considered public until after 50 years have passed since the issuance of the original death certificate. In other words, only immediate family members, legal representatives and other persons with a legal interest, and private investigators can access death certificates from the last 50 years. In addition, access is granted to genealogical researchers but, again, only if they can prove they have a family relationship with the person on the certificate, through a birth or death record, or a marriage certificate. Family trees are not valid documents for establishing proof of relationship. There is also an additional category that qualifies for access to death records, and it includes people who have been authorized by a member of the immediate family of the deceased.
As death records older than 50 years are considered public, you only need to provide a valid ID, a filled in application form, and the fees set for the search of the document and preparing a copy, if needed.
Public libraries are among the best information repositories in any state, and Arizona is no exception. Libraries in Arizona maintain extensive newspaper archives, for instance, so you can get access to the obit section of quite a large part of a paper's back issues. However, as the Pima County public library warns, there is no guarantee that the specific obituary you are looking for will have been published in a newspaper. What's more, obituaries are not necessarily published immediately after a death occurs, so you might have to sift through quite a lot of newspaper issues. In that, of course, you will be helped by the library staff, who have the necessary professional knowledge to make the search more effective.
Another word of advice comes from Chris Seggerman from the Arizona State Library. He explains that not all deaths are reported in the obituaries section - some may be featured in a news story, for instance, if the death occurred during an epidemic of some sort or in a car crash. Another issue may be the particular newspaper, in which the obituary may have been published. If you know the place of residence of the person whose obituary you are looking for, that would not be hard, especially if you focus on smaller local papers that are more likely to cover more local events, including deaths.
One issue that a researcher may encounter is not knowing when the death occurred. In this, the US Social Security Death Index can be of great help. The Index will yield the month, year and location of a death, if it occurred in 1962 or more recently. However, the SSDI will not give the date of death or the date of the obituary's publication. It also does not contain deaths of people without a social security number, or those whose death was not reported to the authority's administration. Still, it could provide you with a starting point for a further search.
The Arizona State Archives have the most extensive collection of newspapers circulating in the state, which makes them one more good source of obituary information. The State Archives include an online biographical database that contains entries on more than 100,000 people whose names appear in the Archives' book collections, newspaper collections, periodicals, obituaries, and vertical files (collections of reference articles and news clippings). The search will yield a full name, source of biographical information, where in the Archives it is, date of the record and type of the record. A note worth mentioning is that the biographical database does not include information on all the individuals that appear in the Archives collections, and that the records it does include are not all the ones in which a particular person appears. A further note concerns death certificates specifically - the biographical database only includes such records issued before 1953.
Arizona Daily Star Index
One other source of information about deaths that have occurred in the state, the index was compiled by the University of Arizona. It covers the period between 1953 and 1989. In the volumes covering the 1950s, the death entries overlap to a large extent with the obituaries issued during that period. Later volumes, however, tend to feature mostly deaths reported in news stories, such as accidents and murders. Another limitation is that the whole index is not available at a single location. Most of the years, except 1959, and 1966-1969 are available at the Arizona Historical Society. The University of Arizona has the 1966-1969 records on a card file in its Information Commons.