The digital age has swept in and changed the way the world thinks about access to information. What used to require students to crack open an encyclopedia or head to the library is now often available with the tap of a smart phone. Now, when someone we know (or know of) passes away, phones will begin buzzing with the information faster that it ever could have circulated through a small-town rumor mill. As a result, people no longer wait for obituaries to get information about someone's passing. Instead, the information is usually delivered to them in other ways.
Just 20 years ago, this wasn't considered normal. In fact, up until even more recently then that, obituaries were considered the main way to find out about the death of someone, especially an acquaintance, an old teacher, etc. The publication of obituaries has become customary over the past 200 years, and the documentation has offered extensive background information on the life and the family of the deceased for at least the last 100 years.
Obituaries, unlike death certificates, are not required documentation. They are entirely compulsory and, as a result, can be forgone if the family cannot afford it or the deceased asked that one not be run. It's difficult in many situations to be able to prove if an obituary ever circulated if you are not certain.
In order to get more information about the existence of an obituary and the archives that may hold what you are on the hunt for, there are several different ways to go about it. Often, libraries are the most reliable source of information for obituaries because they likely hold the archives for papers that were published in areas around the location.
The North Carolina State Library has made an effort to organize all of this information into a comprehensive overview. Their website offers a list of what resources are available to access obituaries throughout the state. Many of the sources are accessible through links to other sites that host the content, and some include actual newspapers. For the most part, the majority of the content is available through links that either take you to the actual obituaries or to indexes that indicate where obituaries can be found.
Their comprehensive listing can give genealogical researchers access to census records, death certificates, family information, cemetery records and more. It is rare for a state to have this much information available in one place, and much of the state is represented by the listings that span counties.
As with many states, websites maintained by genealogy researchers as well as area historical organizations offer access to actual text of century-old newspapers and publications. The websites encourage visitors to explore the actual pages of the publications. Usually, the last of these obituaries that are available in their entirety are from the early 1920s and before. Often, they are limited to this because of copyright restrictions that make it more difficult to make information from before 1923 public without special arrangement.
GenealogyBuff offers a comprehensive list of all of the newspapers that have been published in North Carolina if you need a jumping off point for possible publications. Links will take users to the websites for each of the publications, but these websites are often the most recent updates and may not have access to the archives. You can contact the publication through the access points provided on each website to determine if they have an archive that is searchable. Additionally, you can attempt to search the archives yourself with just a typical search of the website.
Some counties have historical records that are available in index through genealogical societies. For instance, Johnston County has made an effort to create an online system that allows you to order copies of obituaries directly from their website for just $5.00.
If you know the name of the diseased, you don't need to know the newspaper that the obituary was published in or the date of the death. A last name search will yield all Johnston County obituaries listed under that last name. Some have the full text of the printed notice, and others only have minimal information like name or date of death. The amount of text included relies on what was available from the actual record as well as the integrity of the archive when it was indexed. For the majority of situations, missing information is only missing because it was not originally printed.
Other counties offer similar services though they may be on a more limited scale. For instance, Davidson County hosts a PDF index on their website of each obituary between 1976-2000 from the Lexington Dispatch. Harnett County, on the other hand, actually offers the entire text of many obituaries on their website through a basic search. Again, all you need is a last name, and they save you the trouble of having to hunt down the date of death or publication name.
North Carolina offers many comprehensive resources that include actual access to information from the text of obituaries as well as more limited access to information on publications. All of it can be helpful when trying to determine where to find the records that you need to complete your genealogy search.
Regardless what you need the information for, there are plenty of opportunities to explore as well as helpful organization who may be able to point you in the right direction. Whether it requires a trip to the library or just usage of actual library systems that are accessible from outside of the building, the public library is the place to go when you need historical documentation that would otherwise be lost to our newly digital world.