Obituaries are important historical documents, essential in making family trees or recording family histories - but you probably already knew that! What you might not have known, however, is that searching for them can be a time-consuming endeavor, as not all the necessary information to locate an obituary is always readily available. Searches are easier with recent obituaries -- a lot of newspapers have electronic editions, which include their death notice or obituary section. Beside that, there are a number of websites that maintain sometimes extensive databases of obituaries nationwide.
Things can get more difficult if you are looking for an old obituary that was published in a newspaper that no longer exists. Newspaper collections in public libraries offer invaluable help in such situations. However, the most important thing is to know where to start an obituary search. You would need to know at least the name of the person whose obituary you would be searching for, as all online databases have a name-based search option and this is the basic information they require. It would be even better if you know the place of residence and the date of death -- the more information you feed into the search engine, the more accurate the results are likely to be. However, these are not the only resources you can use in Louisiana.
If you know all the details about an ancestor's death, you can request a copy of their death certificate from the Vital Records Registry at Louisiana.gov. Note that death records are confidential until 50 years have passed from their issuance, and during that period only direct family members and specifically authorized individuals can obtain copies.
If the record you are looking for is older than 50 years, however, you can request a copy from the Louisiana State Archives, where historical vital records are kept. You can browse the Archives' database online. Note that the Archives only keeps death certificates for the period of 1911-1963. It does hold some older records, but these are only for specific parishes in the state. For Orleans parish, for instance, the Archives has death records dating back as far as 1804. Most of these are on microfilm and upon request you will get a certified copy. For some, however, like the death records in Orleans for 1804-1818, there are only entries from the parish's death index.
If you are not looking for information about a direct family member, then online obituaries are your best bet. There are a number of online resources you can use, and here are some of them.
At Tributes.com, you can search digital archives of obituaries by city and town. You filter the search by last name, period or specific year. There is also an advance search option if the primary one does not yield a result. It includes additional categories such as full name and keywords.
In the Genealogy Bank you can either search the database of recent obituaries, from 1986 to present day, or click on the "Historical obituaries" section on the left. Keyword search is also available for this database, and you can also search by city or town, and by name of newspaper. Although there is an option to search for a result from a single date, the website advises you choose the period range option. This is because even if you know the date of death, this is never the same as the date of the publication of the obituary. Sometimes these are published weeks after the event.
On some sites you will find an extensive list of obituary indexes from Louisiana, as well as obituary abstracts from the local press. The information contained in this list is quite a lot, and some records go back to the 19th century. Once you locate the name of the person in an index, knowing this and the name of the newspaper that published the obituary you should be able to find the document in a library collection.
All libraries keep collections of newspapers and other periodicals and there is a good chance that they will have the issue you need. Some, like the New Orleans Public Library, even have a digital biography and obituary index. The NOPL index contains obituaries and death notices from newspapers that circulated in the city in the period between 1804 and 1972, and there are detailed instructions about how to ensure the success of your search.
But what if you are looking for a death that occurred in a small town and was carried by the local paper? Public libraries also collect local paper issues, but your best choice may be the library in the place of residence of the decedent. It is, of course, likely that bigger libraries feature smaller newspapers in their collections, so there is no harm in checking with both.
If you cannot locate an obituary but are certain that there must be one, there is one more option and that is contacting the newspaper that published it. You can search for a list of Louisiana newspapers online and try to find their contact details. While some of these may have some digital obituary archive, others will not. Also, this option is really only suitable if you are absolutely certain in the name of the newspaper and the fact that it did publish an obituary.
Basically, the sequence of actions in an obituary search can go as follows: online databases, libraries/Archives, newspaper archives. Of course, you may forgo one or more of these steps and get a copy of a death certificate. In case you don't have enough information or there are no death certificates for the period you are looking at, follow the above steps.