As newspapers all over the country begin shutting their doors, it could get harder and harder to get copies of local publications that support rural areas or provide an alternative perspective from the mainstream in major metropolises. Though online publications are growing to support new information that comes out, the already published articles and notices soon may be without homes in many different areas.
There was a time not that long ago when the majority of news was broken by newspapers and not notifications that went straight to your pocket. People would eagerly await the daily paper to find out what was going on in their towns. That practice has all but fallen by the wayside, and small publications all over the country are losing their ability to pay for printing because people want their information before the crack of dawn tomorrow.
Newspapers have been the place to go for publishing notices and announcements for nearly two centuries in many states. The majority of obituaries for people who could not claim celebrity status were published in local papers where the readers would be likely to know the deceased. Obituaries for the last 15 to 20 years can be easy to find through a quick Internet search, but that leaves at least a century's worth of data off the digital spectrum.
Utah has done a heroic job thus far of putting together the data from old newspaper editions into searchable and easily accessible databases and websites. This is not a technology that most states can claim, and the comprehensiveness of what is available for Utah without paying a dime is something to be proud of and excited to explore.
In most states, the best place to start to find an obituary that you aren't able to easily locate online is either the local library or the newspaper that it was published in. If the newspaper has closed or you aren't sure which publication ran the obituary, then the library is usually next. Librarians or researchers can tell you which publications were in print during the time period that you're exploring, and they will give you instructions on how to find or request the information.
The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University hosts an online database of obituary records that date back to 2001. The results provide interested parties with information about which publication the announcement appeared in. It also lists the page as well as the microfilm that they can be found on in the library.
If the record that you're trying to locate was published in a newspaper from Utah, it should be available through Utah Digital Newspapers. With issues that date back to the mid-nineteenth century, just about everything that has been published in a Utah newspaper through the early 2000s can be found within these listings. The site was developed in conjunction with the University of Utah. Beyond just the information on what publication the notice went in or where the microfilm is kept, Utah Digital Newspapers actually provides a copy of the text of the obituary as it was contained in the original publication.
Sites like Utah Digital Newspapers are rare throughout the United States, and there are not many places who get the benefit of such comprehensive access to local history. If it happened in Utah over the last two centuries, there's a fairly good chance that it is contained within one of the newspapers that is archived there. Though there are still some gaps to fill in, the project has been in the works since 2001 and has archived most of the available data.
The best part of a site like Utah Digital Newspapers is that it is searchable by keyword and name. If you know the full name of the person who died but not the date on which they passed or the day the obituary ran in the newspaper, you can still find the information. Middle names as well as an idea of the year or decade the person passed away are always helpful, but in a searchable database like this one, they are not required. A simple search box on the first page welcomes genealogy enthusiasts and records hunters to enter the name of the person and dig through the results.
Another great aspect of Utah Digital Newspapers is that is also tells you if the newspaper is protected by some kind of copyright that would restrict your ability to use it. For the most part, this won't be an issue because people just want to read the obituaries or save them for personal use, but if there are any rights to be infringed upon, the listing makes that clear.
While the library is still a great resource to get information about vital records and obituaries that were published in different areas, that searchable data takes most of the work out of the process.
If the record that you are looking for doesn't appear to be included in the huge selection at Utah Digital Newspapers, then you will have to do additional homework to figure out where it was printed or if it was printed at all. If you have the details of name, location, date and publication, then a trip to the library in that area will probably lead you to what you're looking for. If you're missing any of that information, it can become very difficult to track information down. The date and location are most important when you're talking about volumes that span more than 150 years. The absence of either of those bits of information can expand your search by thousands and thousands of records and make it seem impossible to hunt them down.
If the date of death and location are not readily available from a family member or any heirloom documentation, you will want to contact the Utah Office of Vital Records (accessible at Utah.gov) to track down the requested information. The website for the Vital Records department offers instructions on how to request a death certificate that will clear up some of the ambiguity that is halting your search. Keep in mind, however, that Utah laws prohibit people from attaining death records unless they are immediate family or provide proof that they have received permission from immediate family to seek out the records. Death records are only kept under these conditions for 50 years after the death. Then, they can be accessed by anyone without proof of relation.
Utah has a resource that most states would love to have. An abundance of information related to the lives, deaths and goings-on of local Utah communities is available right from a computer screen no matter where you sit in the world. If your obituary search needs to be completed in Utah, the task has been made a whole lot easier for you.