In order to track down an obituary that hasn't been written within the last 20 or 30 years, there are some important pieces of information that you will need. First, make sure you have the full name of the deceased including middle name. Middles names can be very important when tracking down obituary records, especially when firsts and lasts are fairly common. Also, make sure you know what area the obituary was published in. For the most part, this will be the county or city where the person died. However, if the person was well-known or lived for most of his or her life in another area, the obituary may be published there in addition to the local paper. In other cases, the family opts to have the obituary published only in the place where the person had the strongest ties.
Washington takes a greater interest in organization of obituary records than many states do, and they offer a comprehensive listing right on the State Library website of all of the different places that may have obituary listings
Libraries do more than just hold dusty, old tomes that get less and less attention as computers and smart phones become more prevalent throughout our society. They also act as a massive archive system for important documents and records that may be published by public and private organization throughout the city, county or state.
In this case, libraries are often a great place to go to track down obituary records for several reasons.
First, the information age has been the downfall of many newspapers. As print media outlets continue to shut their doors, there are fewer and fewer places to contact for archive copies of newspapers. Even after a newspaper ceases publication, library systems will hold on to the originals.
Second, libraries are slowly shifting to the digital age. It's happening more in some places than others, and the slow shift as become a sprint in more developed areas. This means that, often by partnering with genealogy organizations and local historical societies, libraries have begun (or have already finished) digitizing newspaper issues into searchable documents that are published on the Internet.
Third, libraries have been making print archives into microfilms for decades, and these are less likely to degrade or get damaged in the way that print can.
Washington, specifically, has a comprehensive listing of what's available from different newspapers, libraries and counties.
Begin your search with a quick look on a search engine with the person's first and last name and the word "obituary." You may be surprised to find out that the massive efforts of your area have been sufficient enough to get what you need published. Many websites that host obituaries so that friends and family can leave messages have older resources as well.
If you don't find anything from a basic Internet search, the Washington State Cemetery & Obituary Resources lists more than 20 different sites where obituaries can be tracked down throughout the state. The listing expands daily, and at least gives you a jumping off point to see if you can find something by just plugging the information into a search engine.
If that doesn't work, and you know the area that the obituary was published in or the paper that ran it, the Washington State website, WA.gov, can direct you to not only the archives for that paper but also to sites that aggregate some of the information.
For instance, the Eastern Washington Genealogy Society collects obituary records that they index through their website. You can search by first or last name, and the results will let you know what paper published the obituary as well as the issue and page number. Then, you can contact the paper, if it's still active, or find a library in the town where it was once published and find the archive on a microfilm.
The Spokane Public Library System gives access to papers like the Spokesman Review and Spokane Daily Chronicle, which has an extensive listing of obituaries from the paper. They can be searched by last name, then the information can either by accessed by taking the issue number and page information to the library or, if you're out of state, following the protocol that the library has established for people who cannot get directly to the library. If there is a microfilm of the issue that has already been created, Spokane Public Library members can have access to the microfilms by using their library login at the ProQuest Digital Microfilm database.
Obituary records and indexes that are accessible remotely are not always complete, and they often get updated daily by researchers as well as dedicated volunteers who manually input information. Most Washington libraries and newspapers have not finished the massive undertaking of digitizing so much information, but they have pretty substantial listings at least from the 1960s until now, if not more.
Unfortunately, due to recent budget restraints, The Washington State Library is no longer able to do the extensive searches that they once did for members as well as those outside of Washington. They now require interested parties to come to the actual library and search the microfilms themselves due to lack of manpower. Their website offers several alternatives as well as a way to loan microfilms to other libraries so that Washington residents don't have to go as far to get to them. While it is not as personalized and helpful of a system as it once was, there are still several ways to find the records if you need them.