Obituaries and death notices are the only two official forms of notification available when someone passes away. The difference between the two is that obituaries tend to be longer than death notices, and include more information. The information might include a more or less complete list of surviving family members, and personal and professional details about the deceased. Some obituaries read like a full life story, in fact. Death notices, on the other hand, are short and state the date of birth and death, and possibly information about any funeral service; they are largely record keeping documents.
Given their detailed nature, obituaries can then be a significant source of information in all kinds of historical research, and they are also invaluable for family trees. Obituary searches, however, are hardly ever quick, unless you know everything there is to know about an ancestor, which kind of defeats the purpose in the first place, don't you think?
Newspapers in Connecticut naturally carry an obituary section, and public libraries often keep detailed, extensive collections of back issues, so they are your primary source of information. Another source is nationwide online databases, some of which are big enough to accommodate the information you are looking for.
If what you need is a proof of someone's death, you don't even need to browse newspaper archives for obituaries. What you need is to contact the Connecticut State Department of Public Health, which keeps death records from 1897 to the present day. The Department also has death indexes from 1949 to the present. If you know where the death occurred, you can request a copy of the death certificate from the town official in the respective location. If you are not sure about the place, you can write to the central State Vital Statistics Office. It's worth noting that approaching the town record custodian will be much quicker in most cases -- processing time for vital record requests to the state office varies between six and eight weeks.
Another thing to bear in mind if you need a copy of a death certificate is that you can freely get one as long as you are over the age of 18. Unlike in many other states, you don't need to prove blood relationship, though you have to mention if there is one on the application form, along with the reason you are requesting the record. The copy you will get will include the cause of death, but it will not include the social security number of the decedent. Copies with social security numbers are only granted to a limited number of eligible parties; these include the surviving spouse, next of kin, funeral directors, and government agencies.
If you don't have the information necessary to make a successful request for a death certificate, then you may want to seek the assistance of library staff. Document searches are just part of the job for librarians and they have been specifically trained to conduct them. If you lack such training and don't have much of a background in research, this would be your best choice.
The Connecticut State Library, for one, holds all vital records issued prior to 1897, so if the information you are looking for is older, the CPL should be your first stop. The library also has a collection of census data, Civil War service records, and vital records, comprising information not just from the Vital Statistics Office, but also from church registers, newspapers, and probates. There are also vital records that have been derived from private writings, dating back centuries. While some of this information is available online in the form of detailed indexes, most is in paper form only and can only be viewed on site.
Smaller libraries could also be helpful, as they keep collections of back issues of local newspapers, and it is local newspapers that are more likely to carry an obituary that would not appear in large-circulation editions. Some local libraries offer a searchable obituary index containing data from several local newspapers. The Ferguson library in Stamford, for instance, has a search tool for obituaries published in one of seven local papers, with the total time period that they cover spanning from 1830 to present day. Another local library, in New London, boasts the full record of the New London Day paper, so if you are looking for an obituary likely to have appeared in it, this is the place to go.
In some ways, therefore, local libraries can be even more useful for the obituary searcher than more central or statewide ones. But libraries don't have all of their collections online and if you are pressed with time, heading to the net instead might be your best bet. There are many databases and most of them, unfortunately, don't really contain much information. Even so, there are a few that might prove helpful.
These include GenealogyBuff, where you can either make a name-based search, or browse 257 obituary collections from the state of Connecticut. Another extensive collection of obituaries is available at Obituary Central. Again, there is a direct search option along with a county-based collection of obituaries. Another option is searching the Connecticut Death Index, which covers 1949-2001.
In a further reminder that local may be better than central, when it comes to obituary searches, there are a lot of obituary information sources online on the county and town level. These include funeral homes that issue obituaries or daily service notices, county obituary collections, and the archives of local papers. Most local papers have only a short list of the latest obituaries in their digital version, but they certainly keep archives, which, although they may not be available online, should be accessible in person.
Patience is essential when embarking on an obituary search, especially if you don't have much information about the person to start with. Before you start looking for the obituary, you will have to gather all the details that would make finding it easier, and this frequently takes time. But given the ample information resources both online and offline, an obituary search is by no means an impossible mission.