Obituaries are a way of celebrating the life of someone who has passed away, and a public declaration about the legacy left behind by the decedent. Obituaries vary in tone and function, ranging from the morbidly humorous to somber reflection depending on the wishesand instructions left behind. But celebration of a life and remembrance are not the single purpose of obituaries, they are also a source of information that's vital to genealogists and other professionals whose daily work involves sifting personal details. So, while browsing obituaries entries might not be the most exciting activity to you, they do serve a clear purpose.
Looking for ancestors to fill in your family tree, for example, might be one way obituaries come in handy. Whatever your purpose, let's talk a little bit about researching obituaries in general. Like with any other form of research, you need some information in advance in order to be able to start gathering the info you're after. The most important details are the full name of the person whose obituary you are set to find, their place of residence, and the place and time of death. Then, you would need the name of the newspaper that carried the obituary and the date it was published - if available. If you don't have the date and place of death, it's very likely that your search will be unsuccessful as it will be near impossible to locate the paper that may have published the obituary. Even in a small state like Delaware, there are many newspapers, big and small, and unless you have some idea about where an obituary may have been published, your search would be very much akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.
Luckily, there are many online resources you can use to help make the initial narrowing down process easier. To begin with, there are a number of obituary databases you can search by name. You can choose the time period within which you know or suppose the death occurred, or you can just type in the name of the person and then sift through the results. These results include the full text of the obituary, the name of the newspaper in which it was published, and the date of publication; basically everything you would need to locate the actual issue if you're after a hard copy.
Another very helpful resource that can give you the date and place of death based on the full name of person is the Social Security Death Index. Starting from 1962, it lists all deaths that have been reported to the Social Security authorities, which includes most deaths of people with a social security number. The index will also tell you the last place of residence of the decedent, as well as their state of birth.
If the obituary you are trying to locate is recent, your next step after establishing the name of the newspaper that carried it would be to go to the Internet Public Library and select the news source that the Legacy.com search yielded. However, most newspapers don't keep extensive digital archives yet, and this is especially true for smaller ,local publications likely to publish obituaries. For this reason, you may need to more onto places with physical newspaper records in order to find what you're after.
Libraries are one of the best sources of obituary information because they often have extensive and accurate newspaper collections. Often, they are the primary source of help in an obituary search scenario where you can't locate what you need in an online database. Aside from their document resources, libraries also have qualified staff who know how to perform a search for something like an obituary.
The most important piece of information to get the search going is the place of residence and the place of death (if they are different). Armed with this knowledge, your search for the newspaper will be significantly narrowed. To go further, however, you'll likely be enlisting the help of library staff to help you dig deeper into some subscriber-only databases. Databases like Reference USA, to which many libraries subscribe, and which can provide you with a list of relevant newspapers and their contact details. Alternatively, you can use a print guide to newspapers available at most mid to large library systems.
Once you have a name for the newspaper, you can either use the newspaper collection of your nearest library, or, if it doesn't keep a record of that particular newspaper, you'll have to either contact the newspaper itself or go to a library in the town where it is published. Some local newspapers have an online obituary archive, complete with a search tool, but it may not go back far enough. For instance, the Seaford Star has a list of local obituaries since end-2011, obviously this doesn't cover a lot of time yet. If the obituary you need is older, you will need to make a trip.
Besides newspapers, libraries may also keep a range of other resources, such as cemetery records, funeral home records, and church records, including burial services. Some libraries will do the search for you, based on details you submit to them, including the exact date of death and the name of the person. Naturally, the more details you supply, the better the chance that the search will be successful.
The University of Delaware library is another major source of information. Its collections include family histories, local histories, census data, military records, vital records, wills, deeds, and documents published by historical and genealogical associations in the state. The library also keeps newspaper records and church records.
Among the other record custodians that may assist you in your search, are the Delaware State Archives, where older vital records -- birth, death, marriage, and divorce records -- are kept. The Archives also keep Civil War records, and probate records, among others. At the county level, Registers of Wills also have ample historical records of deaths, in some cases dating back as far as the 17th century. In case you need the help of professional historians and genealogists, you can use contact details for these available at the Archives and any public library.