When someone passes away, the customary procedure throughout the United States is to post a notice in the local newspaper to alert community members to the death. Though not required, obituaries, as they're called, often contain a wealth of information about the life of the person who has passed on. As time goes on, these records, which have been a custom for 200 or more years in many places in the U.S., offer valuable glimpses into the lives of our own ancestors. For this reason, obituary records can be incredibly helpful when attempting to trace genealogy.
If you're unsure of the location or date of death, the North Dakota Vital Records department with the Department of Health offers a comprehensive database of birth and death records from the state. While these are informational copies only and not designed to be official records, a search of last name can be combined with up to a 10-year span of time to offer results for the entire state. You can access these and other official government departments at ND.gov.
The availability of these records cuts down on your search time substantially. If you know when and where the person in question died, you can then follow up with local papers in the area as well that may hold those archives. Alternatively, North Dakota has several locations throughout the state that act as official or unofficial records holders for newspapers and publications.
Since the database of informational death records is readily available, it's probably best to just take a few minutes and search for the death certificate even if you think you have the information already. The death certificate can help you narrow down the publication that the obituary may have been published in based on the recorded location of death. The 30-second search could provide information that contradicts the information that you have. Names can get misspelled on certificates and obituaries, and family members may forget exact dates after many years.
Once you have the information from the death certificate, the majority of the work can be done for you by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. While the organization may not be able to provide a complete text of the obituary, they are the archive holders for each of the newspapers that have been published in North Dakota. Many of the North Dakota papers also cover parts of Minnesota as well.
If you know the location where the person on question passed away, then all you need from there is to know what county that city is located in. From there, the website for the State Historical Society of North Dakota offers a map of the state that is divided by county. Users click on the county that they need to search and are taken to a list of all cities located within the county. By selecting the city, users are provided a list of all of the newspapers that have been published in that city as well as the dates of publication.
Included in the listings for each individual paper is the location where they can be found on the microfilm roll. While the website doesn't give direct access to the actual paper, you're just one step away from it with the listing. Once you have the microfilm number of the issue that you're looking for, you can contact the historical society and follow their procedure to procure a copy.
By following this procedure, getting ahold of the obituary records that you are looking for is not difficult. In fact, the historical society cuts out most of the work that other states require in going to different libraries to determine where the information is located. Many local North Dakota libraries will offer similar service as well as access to records that are similar to what can be found in the archive, but individual papers may be housed at individual libraries.
Once you have accessed the death certificate via the Department of Health website, surf on over to the site for State Historical Society of North Dakota. If the person in questioned died in November of 1897, you would scroll through the listings and see which papers were published in that year. If, for instance, the person who you are looking for is recorded to have died in Fargo, North Dakota, a quick search will show that Fargo is located in Cass County. By clicking on Cass County, a list of cities populates that allows you to select Fargo. From there, a longer list of each of the different publications pops ups and shows dozens of newspapers that have been published in the area. Three newspapers were in circulation at that time. From there, the microfilm numbers will indicate what years and dates are held within the files.
The historical society and local area libraries can actually work together to present the information that you are looking for. The microfilm organizational system offers collaboration between the archives at the historical society and the local library branches. The ability to work together make interlibrary loans between the organizations possible. Once you are able to locate the newspaper that houses the obituary and the issue that it was printed in, the microfilms can be requested by your local branch as a loan. You can then view them and get the information that you need without making the trek to the historical society.
Oregon offers an excellent example of what collaborative efforts in records sharing can do for the population as a whole. By working together, the historical center and local library are more than able to get obituary records to people who need them with much more speech than is offered through non-integrated systems.