Obituaries are announcements about a person's death that typically include biographical information such as a list of surviving relatives, professional and personal achievements, and any other information that the decedent's family has considered worth including. This fact makes obituaries a very valuable document for genealogists, or researchers who compile family histories. But they are just one of the professions that benefit from obituaries. In fact, it's not just professional purposes that obituaries can be used for -- anyone willing to make a family tree would find use for these announcements. Is that you? Well then, let's get started.
There are three main sources of obituaries: online databases, public libraries, and the vital records department in the state. A fourth one is the archives of individual newspapers but these can be accessed from Hawaii public libraries so you may not have to approach the newspaper itself. Sometimes just one of these sources will be sufficient and will yield the obituary that you need. On many occasions, however, you will need to combine these sources to get to the information.
Before you start your search, there are some basic details you need to have about the person whose obituary you will be searching for. These are their full name, their place of residence, and the place and date of death. The minimum is the full name of the person, since all online databases are searchable by name. It is better, though, to know as much as possible, since there are very few unique names, and an online search may yield results for more than one person. What's more, it should be noted that obituaries are carried either by a newspaper in the person's place of residence, or, if it's different, in the place where they died. A further note is that not all deaths are announced in newspapers, so you might need to look elsewhere for a death report, such as in the US Social Security Death Index, or the vital records division of the state's department of health.
In Hawaii, all newspapers carry obituaries, and there are databases online that compile their lists based on newspapers, so this is one way to start your obituary search. Bear in mind that most newspaper websites will only display the latest entries in their obituary sections. This is commonly because they don't have a digital archive of back issues at all, in which case you will need to go offline and look for the particular issue at a library. This is why it's vital to know at least an approximate period in which the death occurred and the obituary was published. Bear in mind that obituaries are not published on the same date when the death occurred. In fact, sometimes they could be published as late as two weeks or even a month after the event.
The logical start to an obituary search, in case you don't know the name of the paper that may have carried the death announcement, is one of the nationwide databases, which any search engine will offer immediately. They typically require you to enter a name which will either yield the name of the newspaper and the date when the obituary was published, or an image of the obituary. Sometimes, however, a simple name-based search online will not suffice.
If you are looking for the death record of a direct ancestor, you can request a copy of their death certificate from the Hawaii Department of Health. You will need to fill in a standard application form, supplying as much information as possible about the person whose record you need, and also personal details about yourself, to prove your direct family relationship to the decedent. Then you can either mail the application or submit it in person at the Office of Health Status Monitoring in Honolulu. Typical processing time for these requests is six to eight weeks, unless the record you need is older, in which case it will take longer than that to locate it and make a copy.
As for libraries, Hawaii has a Family History Library, which is one of the central repositories of historical obituaries published in various newspapers. Among them is the run of the Nupepa Kuokoa paper for the period 1861 to 1927, and a partial index of births, deaths, and marriages that occurred or took place before 1950.
Another resource is an ongoing project of the Brigham Young University - Hawaii, which is compiling a digital database of obituaries from the islands for the period 1994 to 2005. Though still in progress, the database may prove useful of the obituary you need was published in this period.
The Hawaii State Archives also provide ample resources for obituary searches. Among the collections held by the Archives is a genealogy index, which you can search by any word. The search will give you the place of the original record, including book or volume, section, page, and case number, if applicable. Among these records are probates and wills, the latter spanning the period between 1852 and 1916.
The Archives are also custodian of two collections of vital records for the period from 1826 to 1929. The death records in these collections are a limited number, consisting of lists submitted by schoolteachers who were the keepers of death registers prior to 1896. Still, the collections can be used as a last resort if other sources of information have failed to yield the obituary or death record you need.
Don't forget, of course, that there are some newspapers that do have digital archives, including of their obituary sections. These include the Star Advertiser, which publishes both obituaries and death notices, and where you can view obituaries by date or make a name-based search. The Kauai Garden Island also has a search tool for its obituary section, which you can use if you believe the announcement you need was published there. If this fails too, try the newspaper collections in the local library in the place where your ancestor lived and/or died. If there was an obituary, this library search should yield it.