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Nebraska Obituaries

Obituaries and death records are among the main resources that historical researchers use in their work, but they are also important documents for people like investigative journalists, private investigators, and law enforcement officers.

Making family trees and writing family histories are activities that are gaining in popularity, as well, given the ease with which this can be done in today's digital age. Obituaries are a major part of this but even with a wealth of online resources such research usually takes time. The first obvious place to find the obituary of an ancestor is the archives of the local newspaper in the town or city where they lived and died. Local newspapers are the ones that tend to publish more obituaries than big, nationwide titles, and this is something you should bear in mind when embarking on a search.

With an increasing number of newspapers keeping a digital archive of past issues, the easiest thing to do would be to check if the newspaper you are certain has published the obituary you need has one. Check out this list of Nebraska newspapers and look for their obituary sections. Yet this is not all, as even newspapers that keep digital archives don't have their complete run online. Of course, you can contact the paper directly and ask for a copy of the obituary but you have to be certain that there is one. The truth is that not all deaths are announced in newspaper obituaries, and if this is the case with your ancestor, you will have to consider alternative sources of information.

In order to establish if there is an obituary, you could take advantage of the extensive online databases of death announcements. These compile their lists from newspapers and other databases such as the Social Security Death Index, which makes them very reliable. However, even the SSDI does not cover all obituaries, especially older ones. So, if you don't find the obituary you are looking for in such a database, this does not mean that there isn't one. You may have to dig deeper, using the resources available at a public library or the collections kept by historical and genealogical societies in the state. Alternatively, you can request a copy of the person's death certificate.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services keeps death records from 1904 onwards. However, due to confidentiality concerns, you can only freely access death records that are 50 or more years old. This should not present a problem but if it does, and you are looking for the record of a distant family member, you can approach their immediate surviving family members to request a copy for you.

Although the central health authorities only keep records from 1904 onwards, some counties have much older ones, dating back as far as the 1870s. The place to look for them is the registrar's office. Death certificates should not be underestimated in comparison with obituaries -- they both contain important personal details such as full name, dates of birth and death, and place of residence, but obituaries are more extensive, many of them including data about back generations too.

If you are not sure which particular newspaper carried the obituary you are looking for, public libraries are your best choice. All of them keep collections of local newspapers, with some of the runs going back more than a hundred years. What's more, libraries have specially trained staff who know how to do a lot of different searches. Many Nebraska libraries have digitized their newspaper records, and more specifically, their obituary sections. One example is the combined obituary database of the Columbus and Norfolk libraries, where you can search by first, last, or full name of the decedent. The search will yield the full name of the person, the date of publication of the obituary, and the name of the newspaper. Once you get this information, you can go to the respective library to get a copy of the actual obituary.

Newspaper records are not the only genealogical resource available at libraries. The Omaha Public Library, for instance, boasts resources including church records, county vital records, cemetery records, and an index of deaths from the Omaha area, including announcements appearing in newspapers, ones submitted by funeral homes, and obituaries coming from other sources. The information contained in the index concerning newspaper obituaries includes full name and nickname of the decedent, the name of the newspaper, the date of publication, and the page it appeared on. In addition, the index entry would mention if there were any further reports or articles in the paper regarding the same person, which could be of great help for the researcher.

Historical societies are also major repositories of genealogical and biographical information, which you can take advantage of in your research. The Nebraska State Historical Society, for instance, has abundant documentary resources, including cemetery indexes, newspaper collections, and manuscripts. Cemetery records are also available on the county level, under various digital genealogy database projects such as USGenWeb. Although cemetery records cannot offer much in the way of details, they do provide the basic information that any obituary or death record search requires: the full name of the person and the birth and death dates. Some counties also have death indexes including information from funeral services providers -- a very good source since funeral homes record many more death notices than any newspaper. An additional benefit of some of these indexes is that they also include associated surnames, details that could to a significant extent compensate for the lack of an obituary.

With so many resources online, it is safe to say that any obituary search in Nebraska has a very good chance of success. Even if the information you are looking for is not available in digital format, you could always contact the repository, be it a historical or genealogical society, or a library, and they will help you with your research.