Obituaries, death notices, and death records are used by a variety of professionals, as well as by genealogy enthusiasts. No family tree can be made without reference to such documents - or you'll at the very least be in for a rough time! Obituaries are particularly useful because they typically feature a lot of information about the deceased as well as about their family. As obituaries are published in newspapers, newspaper archives are perhaps the first source one would think about. However, it may not be the best one, if you plan on conducting your search entirely online.
The problem is that not all newspapers in Indiana, or elsewhere for that matter, keep a digital archive. Even those that do tend to only keep their recent issues in digital form. Because of this, you may want to consider starting your search with online obituary databases, which include information from a wide variety of print and digital media, as well as from official records like the Social Security Death Index. Still, even these databases are not exhaustive.
The third source of information about obituaries is public libraries. Every library has a collection of newspaper records, national and local. The latter are particularly useful in obituary searches, as the smaller the newspaper, the more likely it is to carry a greater number of obituaries. Once you establish that there is an obituary, checking the collections at the local library in the place where the person lived and/or died would be a good move.
Not all deaths are announced in newspapers. If there is no obituary, you may contact the Indiana State Department of Health. The Vital Records division of the department keeps death certificates starting from 1900, and is the fourth major source of information when looking for death records.
A fifth one is the various local and regional genealogical and historical societies. There are scores of such associations in Indiana, statewide and regional, and they can be useful not just with their collections but also with the expertise of their members.
One thing to bear in mind before choosing one of these sources to start your obituary search is that you need a minimum amount of information to get started. This would be the full name of the person about whose life you want to find out more. Online databases can perform name-based searches or more advanced ones, which include additional details such as place and date of death. The name-based search, however, is the best starting point if you don't know the place or date of death. You can use your preferred search engine for a list of such databases. While many of them have limited amounts of data, big ones like Legacy.com, Ancestor Search, Dignity Memorial, and Obituary Central, to mention but a few, have rather extensive resources.
Online databases get their information from newspapers, and in most cases are the best sources of more recent obituaries. For older ones, however, a public library may be a better choice. You can find a list of Indiana public libraries on this website. Note that not all of them have websites, but all of them have newspaper collections, which you can use in your search. An additional benefit of libraries is that their staff is trained to perform various searches and some even provide obituary search services.
A number of Indiana libraries -- Monroe County, Vigo County, Allen County, and Elkhart among them -- keep death or obituary indexes, which you can browse online to locate an individual announcement. Such a search would most likely yield a reference to the obituary as it was published in the newspaper. You can request a copy of the obituary either in electronic or in paper format. Unlike nationwide online databases, these library indexes span much longer periods, starting from the 19th century to the present day, which makes their collections much more comprehensive, especially since these are regional libraries focusing on local newspapers. The Allen County library, for instance, has more than 600,000 obituary records for the period from 1841 to June this year. The Monroe library has records dating back to 1824. In short, public libraries can be a gold mine when it comes to obituary search.
If no obituary can be found, then may be the death was not reported in a newspaper. In this case, the thing to do would be to request a copy of the person's death certificate from the ISDH. If you need a recent death record, then you will have to prove you are eligible for access to it, as vital records are not considered public until a certain period, typically a few decades, has elapsed from the date they are issued. Eligibility criteria include direct family relation and being a legal representative of the family of the decedent. If you cannot supply proof of eligibility but are looking for the death record of a relative, then you could ask a direct family member of theirs to request the record for you.
One note that needs to be made with regard to death records is that the ISDH only keeps ones from 1900 onwards. For older records the department advises you to contact the regional division of the health department in the county where the death occurred. The ISDH also has a requirement that for death records from 1900 to 1017: the applicant must include the name of the city and/or the county where the death occurred. The processing time for death record requests averages five to ten working days.
As regards historical and genealogical societies, some of them have collections matching that of libraries. The Indiana Historical Society, for instance, has 45,000 print items in its collections, and 5,400 manuscripts. The Indiana Genealogical Society, for its part, has a number of cemetery indexes, historical death indexes, and census indexes for different counties, as well as mortality schedule indexes. Smaller historical and genealogical societies may be an even more valuable resource, as sometimes they keep documents that are not available anywhere else, and among these documents may be the exact obituary you are looking for.