Got family history on your mind? If so, then public records are often the greatest resource for discerning your genealogical history outside of heirlooms and photo albums. That said the home of the city that never sleeps also houses many other options for tracking information about family members who may have resided within the state.
Valuable information can be taken from a common source that is often overlooked when searching out genealogical data: obituaries. They can provide background information about the deceased as well as their families, ancestors, and professions. Over the late 19th and early 20th centuries, obituaries grew in length and began offering more and more detail about the lives of the deceased.
Unfortunately, older obituaries are not always as easy to find as things published within the last few decades. It will likely take more than just an Internet search to hunt down and read the actual record. Luckily, even a trip to one of your local libraries in New York will offer up many options in order to find the information. In addition to a physical trip, databases used for research from libraries may be accessible from home.
You can find a list of many of the most prominent New York papers on Wikipedia. It's free and you just have to be able to access online content to use the service. For the most part, however, Wikipedia focuses on larger publications and will be less likely to have archives of the regional or smaller-area papers. These more niche publications often housed obituaries before the digital revolution of our time.
There are several other services offered by the New York Public Library that can be accessed through your library card number. Often, these sites host entire readable copies of newspapers of all sizes that represent the different areas of the city. Again, these are only accessible with a valid library card, but can be accessed from anywhere.
One of the most interesting things about New York genealogy searches, in typical New York fashion, is that people have always taken all kinds of newspapers to get their fill of information; national, statewide, regional, and town-specific publications all mesh together when searching print news records. As a result, tracking down which exact publication actually published the obituary you're after can be a particularly complex piece of the research puzzle in New York.
The farther back in the 20th century you go, the more likely you are to find papers that were published in America but ran in different languages or were designed for small segments of the population. While the array of foreign language papers can be frustrating, knowing where a family member of interest immigrated from can quickly help to narrow down your choices.
The New York Public Library has made a concerted effort to make the periodicals available that brought breaking news to the city long before television or the Internet did. While they are not digitized and hosted (yet) on free websites as they are in some states, many of the branches as well as libraries throughout the greater parts of the state host indexes that will allow you to search for an obituary or, in the worst case scenario, give you a list of publications that you can look through. From there, you can determine which publications were active when the obituary would have been printed.
A PDF file from the New York Public library offers a comprehensive list of newspapers published in the area as well as their dates of publication. Though these will help you search through libraries in The City, similar options are available throughout the state for finding upstate obituaries and guidance. The listings show researchers if the publication is kept on microfilm or microfiche, and often where they can actually be found. Some early 20th century papers may be available in their entirety, but things that were published beyond that are likely only available for perusal through the archive copies.
That being said, whether you're able to come across the information from an index or not, the library is still an incredible resource for guidance on how to perform these searches. While they often lack the resources to devote staff to the task of finding these records for you, there are always librarians, researchers, and volunteers who are available and willing to answer questions and help you along your way.
You cannot embark on a journey to find obituary records if you do not have as much information as possible when you start out - you'll at least be making it harder on yourself. A search for an obituary requires three key pieces of information, and it becomes more difficult with each missing piece. You must know the name of the deceased, the date (or date range) of death, and the location where the person died. Each of these details provide another way to verify records or track them down to begin with. Without one of the bits of information, the search becomes much harder unless the library that you're visiting or searching online has the less common option to search many papers by name or date range.
If you aren't sure about much of this information, it may be time to search for the death certificate. While death certificates don't offer a whole lot of information other than bare bones facts about the death, they should provide names and dates that are vital to the process. With this information, researchers can verify if the information they were using was correct and if the name was spelled appropriately. From there, you can continue with more traditional obituary research with your newfound information. You can search for death certificates and other official government records through NY.gov.
While there are limitations to statewide resources, the local options for genealogical searches as well as obituary data are plentiful, and you should be able to find what you're looking for with a little time and effort!