Obituary research fulfills a number of roles, ranging from the person to the professional. Unless you're already an expert - in which case you probably wouldn't be reading through this - you're probably not 100% sure about how to go about finding the obituaries you need. Not to worry, there are a ton of resources available to you. Even your local library staff, for example, have established search routines and are ready to offer advice to beginners in order to help them make their searches more efficient. Going all "brick and mortar" may sound surprising at first, given all the freely available databases of obituaries online, but the problem with most of these databases is that they only go back a few years and therefore aren't of much use in genealogical research, for example. This restriction certainly doesn't apply to all online databases, and they're getting better every day, but it's something to keep in mind.
To begin a search, you'll need as much information as you can gather, including the full name of the decedent and the date and place of their death. You also have to be certain that there was an obituary published in a newspaper (though this is less important, and may be established one way or another throughout the research process). If you are, then gather as many other details about this person as possible, every little bit helps.
If you know both the name of the newspaper and the date of the obituary's publication, the only thing left to do is to locate that precise issue, whether in a digital archive, which is the less likely option, or from a public library, which is much more likely to keep records of a lot of old newspapers - hopefully including the one you need! If you know the name of the newspaper but not the date, local library staff advise that you search in issues from the date of death till about a month later. Obituaries are typically published a few days after a death occurs, but sometimes are delayed up to 2-3 weeks.
In case you don't know the name of the newspaper, some logic-based speculation is in order, call it 'educated guessing'. If the person whose obituary you are searching for lived and died in the same town or city, then your search is narrowed to just the newspapers that circulate(d) in this town or city. If, however, they passed away in another place, there is a possibility that either a newspaper from the place of death or one from their place of residence carried the announcement. It is problems like this that make obituary searches time-consuming and complicated, but they're sometimes unavoidable.
The internet will be helpful here, as it contains a variety of obituary databases where you can search based on name and location. If the obituary you are looking for is available in the database you decide to use, it will display either the full text plus the name of the newspaper and date of publication, or an index entry, including the name of the decedent, the name of the newspaper, and the date of publication, depending on the website. With that information, you can go to the nearest library and try to locate the newspaper issue iteself.
The Kansas City Public Library, for instance, has a short guide on how to locate a newspaper obituary. The library is one of those that can offer search experts, relieving you of the exhausting browsing of newspaper microfilm or paper copies. What's more, the library has other genealogy resources too, including death records for the period August 1874 to the end of 1909, as well as a range of subscription online resources that you can use. These include the Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest, both only available for library card holders.
The Mid-Continent Public Library, for its part, keeps an alphabetical obituary index of announcements that appeared in the Kansas City Start and the Times for the period 1979 to the present day. The library's Midwest Genealogy Center also maintains an obituary index for the Independence Examiner for the periods from 1901 to 1910 (partial), 1919 to 1940, and 1994 to 1996.
The Johnson County Library has a collection of obituaries from the late 19th century to the present day, all from local newspapers, as well as a collection of cemetery inscriptions and gravestone photos from around the county. Such resources can be very helpful if the search for an obituary turns out unsuccessful.
Another place to find obituaries is historical societies. The Kansas Historical Society has hosts of genealogical resources, including military records, county records, and newspapers. The Society boasts an almost complete collection of the runs of newspapers circulating in the state. Most of the collection is only available on microfilm, but there is a search tool on the Society's website, where you can try to locate a particular issue. The county record collections include documents such as wills and cemetery records, too.
One alternative to obituaries and death notices are the official records the authorities issue when a person dies. Death certificates in Kansas are in custody of the Department of Health and Environment, starting 1911. Records issued prior to that year are available from the Kansas Historical Society. It should be noted that the state of Kansas classifies vital records as confidential, and not public, which means that by law only a limited number of people can access them. However, the Department of Public Health does accept requests for genealogical research, although it has eligibility criteria in place for these too. If you are requesting a death record issued before 1940, you can do so if you are no more distant a relative to the decedent than cousin. For records issued after 1940, you have to be an immediate family member.
An obituary search may prove to be a very challenging undertaking, especially if it is very old and you have scarce information about the decedent. It is good to know, therefore, that there is an extensive choice of sources of information that you can use, both online and offline, as well as a lot of expert help you can rely on in this search, which could significantly improve your chances of success. You can start with a website to find an obituary or you can go directly to a library; that would be a question of choice and available information. In any case, do not dismiss one source of information as inferior to the rest.