Our constantly developing Internet age means that information can be found right at our fingertips for the majority of situations. Breaking news is sent to your pocket before you even have the chance to look for it. There was a time when information had to be gleaned from a book that came from a library, and news broke every morning or afternoon when the paper arrived. That isn't our world anymore, but some records have not caught up with the Internet age quite yet.
Most newspapers make the majority of their content available for free online, but it can often be difficult to find notices and articles that date back to before the last 20 or 30 years. If you live in a small town or community, your local paper may not have the manpower or resources to devote to the digitization of old issues. This means that, in order to get information that is located in the archives, you probably need to get a photocopy of the original if it's available.
Of the often important and historical information that is published in newspapers, one of the most requested sets of data comes from the obituaries that were often published beginning in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Local papers would publish notices at the behest of loved ones, and this would serve as the official announcement to the community of the passing of a citizen. In most cases, obituaries were (and are) short articles that announce the death, name the survivors, give the location of the funeral and let interested parties know where flowers or donations can be sent.
For many reasons including nostalgia as well as contract disputes and genealogical purposes, you could find yourself in need of an older obituary that can't be located with a simple Internet search. In that case, there are options available to you in order to find the obituary, but they often require more information that just a name.
Start by knowing the full name of the deceased. Then, see if a death certificate or record of the death is available so you know exactly when the person died. This does not have to be an official record and may come from a personal record, member of the family or something from the funeral. If you know when the person died, you should be able to get a two-week range of when the obituary was published.
Next, figure out what newspapers were popular when the person passed away, and then determine if they're still in publication. If they are, call them and ask if they have a way to digitally send out archive information. They may have a searchable database that you're not aware of. If they don't, get information on the request process and then formally request the information.
If you don't know details as specific as what newspaper the obituary was published in, then you may want to head the the local public library for the region. Libraries often serve as records keepers for the community, and they may have archives of newspapers as well as other historical details. Different counties can handle records like newspapers in ways that vary drastically, but there is usually a trend throughout states like West Virginia on how this information gets managed.
At the Kanawha County Public Library, the two major newspapers of the area, Charleston Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette, are kept on microfilms that can be accessed from the library archives. The newspaper issues date back to the early 20th century, and they can provide library card holders with the information that they need upon written request. Each record copy costs $.25 and requests require the name of the person in question as well as the accurate date of death.
Information published in Charleston newspapers after 1985 can be searched online for verifications purposes. If you can find the obituary that you are looking for through that website, you can purchase it online and get it instantly.
The Cabell County Public Library has a similar system, except their index comes in the form of PDFs that are separated by year on the website. They did not necessarily complete scanning and digitizing all of the documents, but they did create an easy way to verify the existence of the information and then request it by filling out a form that is available on the website.
It's important to keep in mind that you need as much information as possible to make a successful request if the information is not easily catalogued by keyword. If you can find the obituary you want on the list, then it should be fairly easy for the staff to find and forward to you. However, if you aren't sure about the details and don't have time to do the homework to get the information, the library staff can deny the request because they are unable to devote a large amount of man hours to requestor's research.
If you have some information, but not all of it, stop by the branch with what you have and ask the librarian or reference staff what more you need and how they suggest finding it. Just because you don't have the details doesn't mean you can't get them, and most researchers are able to point you in the right direction if you need to know what information to get.
Other websites that are not related to local libraries may have information that will help you, but they often require a subscription and are not selective to your state or area. For instance, the biggest website for tracking genealogy is Ancestry.com. They compile public records from throughout the country and the world to allow people to track their personal histories. Much of this information includes death records and published obituaries.
Other options include websites like Newspapers.com that often keep entire issues of newspapers for access through the Internet. You would have to know what newspaper the obituary was published in as well as the date it was published in order to access the information. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time sorting through digitized issues of newspapers. It's possible, but very time consuming.
If you can't find much information after all of that searching, you may want to go back to the drawing board and search for the death certificate. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (available through WV.gov) fulfills all requests for vital records like death certificates. Fill out the form on their website to request the record. Keep in mind that these requests are limited to verifiable family members, funeral directors, those who can prove that they have a legal interest in the certificate. The information can also be released to people who have verifiable permission to access the information.
The death certificate may yield information that you didn't expect. Sometimes families forget dates over time or a family member's name is spelled differently on a death certificate than it is on the family records. Use the now verified information to see if you can perform a better search. If you still can't get the results that you want, then it's likely because an obituary was not published.