South Dakota has more to its name than a beautiful landscape and an annual motorcycle rally - though those are neat too! In fact, it sports a rich history that includes many newspaper publications that covered the state and offered then "breaking" news about the local areas. Most of these papers have come and gone by now, but the state is lucky to have a rich preservationist history when it comes to important documents that have floated through the towns during the last 150 years. Several groups and societies have worked together throughout the state to archive this information as thoroughly as possible so that, should a piece from a newspaper that was printed more than 100 years ago become necessary, the information still exists in good form.
The archives are vitally important when you're trying to hunt down information that can be useful for genealogical purposes or just personal information. Documents like obituaries are often difficult to find through an Internet search, and they are not maintained by the state Vital Records office because they are not mandated requirements. Thus, if you need to hunt down an obituary for a small town in South Dakota, it won't be as easy as filling out a request form with the state office. You will have to do more homework than that.
The best place to start is to figure out what information you have. If you have a name, you are moving in the right direction. In most cases, you will need the name of the person who died, the location where he or she died and the date. If you don't have the exact date, you will at least need a ballpark idea.
Any piece of missing information from that list can make the search difficult. Hundreds of newspapers have been published among many small towns in South Dakota. If you aren't sure where he or she died or the time period when the information would be relevant, then you could be searching through countless records that cover more than 100 years.
Even if pieces of your information are missing, it's better to take those details to a local library and ask them what to do then it is to try to do the search without it. Researchers at the library may be able to give you ideas on how to hunt the details down. Each different city and county handle obituary records differently, but here are some examples of what you can expect from South Dakota libraries.
The library in the city of Sturgis will actually conduct your research for you with just an email that states the name and date of death of the person in question. The library charges a $5 research fee. Obituaries are then emailed out as JPEG images or can be mailed as hard copies for an additional fee. They have also posted a PDF on their website of all of the indexed obituaries so far. The data covers the majority of the last century and includes any newspapers in the region that may have printed an obituary. The newspaper that ended up running the obituary is listed with the name of the deceased.
Most of the options for doing online searches for genealogical data are hosted by the South Dakota State Library and are therefore available all over the state through the more local libraries.
The Sioux Valley Genealogical Society also has a large number of obituaries in their possession as well as in the Sioux Valley Genealogical Society Library. Though the index is not yet complete, it does offer remote access to, at very least, the location of many of the obituaries from The Argus Leader. The Genealogical Society will also mail out copies of the obituaries that they have within their files. The requests have to be made in writing, and there is a $3.00 charge. Their library is also open to the public for perusal during 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In fact, there are several Genealogical Societies that meet throughout South Dakota. The city of Watertown has one as well, and they offer access to several different methods to finding obituaries. Some are contained online, and some require actual interaction with the Watertown Regional Library. The library itself offers access to AncestryPlus which may hold the obituary record that you're looking for and offer free access from within the library walls. HeritageQuest is also available through a library subscription and can actually be accessed remotely with the necessary login information from your library card.
If you cannot gather enough information to find the obituary that you are looking for through a local newspaper, then a certified copy of the death certificate can be accessed from the Vital Records office. You have to be able to prove that you are either closely related to the person in question, an authorized legal entity or someone who was given permission by the close family to get that information. From there, you should be able to take the date of death and location from the certified copy and find the newspaper that printed the obituary. Records must be requested in person or by mail.
The South Dakota State Historical Society offers a comprehensive listing of newspapers from throughout South Dakota's History. This can help quit a bit if you know the area, but you don't know the newspaper that the obituary was published in. For instance, if you know the person lived in and died in Aberdeen, South Dakota in 1943, you should have enough information to figure out which newspaper or papers were in publication then to be able to narrow down the search. Enter "Aberdeen" into the city listing on the South Dakota Historical Society's website in the Newspaper Search Form. About 30 newspapers will populate. By clicking on the name, you can see their start and end dates of publication. If we're looking for someone who died in 1943, the Aberdeen American-News was published twice per day in that time period. The Dakota Farmer and The Exponent were also running at the time. Just from a quick search, you're able to narrow down the options, and from there, you know which papers to track down the archives of. Underneath the listing for each news paper is information on where the newspaper can be found within the archives.
Though South Dakota is not a hugely populated area, it offers resources that are indicative of a technologically forward area. There is plenty to track down within the state, but it is also made easier by the work done by countless researchers and volunteers. The information probably exists. You just have to find it.