Whenever someone passes away, it's customary in most places to post an announcement in a local newspaper as a direct way to alert the community about the passing. This notice is usually known as an obituary.
An obituary is usually a few lines of text that tell the public where and when the person died and where any services celebrating their life will be held. Sometimes, there is a picture included. In more modern incarnations of obituaries, the notices can be posted directly online and a picture can be added without going in to print.
Writers will typically include the names of family members who have survived the deceased as well as important facets about the life of the person who has passed. Sometimes the announcement can take up a column or an entire page of a newspaper, but for most people, the notices are short and to-the-point.
The custom of publishing obituaries in local newspapers began nearly a century before the Internet provided easy access to massive amounts of information. In the late 19th and early 20th century, when newspapers were the only way to share reliable news, obituaries were the fastest and most effective way to inform community members about a death.
Resources to find obituaries are much more plentiful now than they were even 30 years ago. Often, if the notice was posted within the last 40 years or more, it can be searched through one of many websites that offer access to nationwide obituaries.
Despite the many different ways there are to find obituaries, it's not always as cut and dried as an internet search. The State of Wyoming goverment (WYO.gov) and the library system have put resources toward making digital archives available for most obituaries, and therefore the process of tracking down this information is much easier in Wyoming then it is elsewhere.
It's also important to keep in mind that obituaries are not required by any governing body, and they do not represent an official death certificate. They're a voluntary publication and can therefore be skipped over by anyone who doesn't think it necessary or who can't afford it. In the case of many people in the early 20th century, obituaries were an unnecessary expense that families often lacked the resources to pay for. A death certificate for the deceased may exist that can be accessed from the Vital Records Office or the state archive, even when no obituary exists.
In many cases, obituaries that were completed can be more difficult to track down because of when they were published. Often obituaries published prior to the last 40 years are not digitized or available through a database. In that case, citizens have to try to get information through methods that have become ancient practice to our current society: a search in the public library or by contacting a newspaper about their archives.
Luckily, the state of Wyoming does have resources that allow citizens to search for newspapers articles and obituaries through a number of publicly accessible databases. In order to find an obituary, the full name of the deceased is usually required. It helps in many cases to have an idea of the month and year when the person passed away. If the database is searchable, you may not need that information. In some cases, however, the entire newspaper has been digitized as one file and you will have to go to an exact issue and search through yourself. The obituary is housed on a page that has been scanned in and has to be found as if were were looking through a hard copy.
If you don't have a computer or you're not sure how to start the process of searching for the obituary, libraries are the places to go. Contrary to popular belief, they keep information far beyond books that may now be collecting dust. They often serve as an official or unofficial archive for the county or state.
Obituaries can be tracked down at a Wyoming Library in several ways. First, many libraries keep reference copies of local newspapers. If you know when the person died and what city the obituary was printed in, you may be able to find the newspaper by heading to the library in that city. It would help even more to know what newspaper it was printed in, but just knowing the city narrows it down substantially.
For instance, the Albany County Public Library System has years worth of records for Laramie, Wyoming and the surrounding areas. For those who want to see things in person, The Wyoming Room in the Albany County Public Library keeps all of the information safe, secure and accessible.
In the case of Laramie, however, the majority of the information has already been digitized and reaches all the way back to the middle of the 19th century. Obituaries from The Boomerang, are in a searchable database that can be accessed from the library, but also through the library website. All you need to know is the name of the deceased, and the obituary records can be easily accessed if they were, in fact, published in that newspaper.
Additionally, newspapers.wyo.gov hosts a searchable database of Wyoming newspapers that goes clear through to 1989.
Plenty of information is available for obituaries written in 1990 or after by just a simple web search for the person's name and obituary. If you're the proud owner of a Wyoming library card, though, you can get right to the information that you need through resources that are membership only. In essence, your library card allows you to use the city or state's membership, and this gives you access to more than enough information about births, marriages, divorces, deaths and obituaries.
With your library card ID and pin, you can log in to websites like AncestryLibrary and HeritageQuest. Programs like these maintain information about census data and vital records as they become accessible public records from the state.
The older the information, the more likely you are to find it on an ancestry website, if it's available at all. Wyoming limits access to vital records like birth certificates, death certificates and marriage records that are less than 50 years old. Only family members or legal representatives of the family are allowed access to those records. Once they've been released as publicly accessible records, they can be accessed by ancestry web sites and entered in to their databases either as manually entered text or images that are tagged and searchable.
Obituaries offer family, friends and interested parties a small look in to the life of a person who has passed away. They are accessible from many avenues, but age of the notice can be an issue. Wyoming makes it much easier than a lot of states to get this information. A trip to the local library may be all that's necessary to find what you're looking for if your internet searches don't yield anything.