Obituary Search Resources in Arkansas
For some people, reading the obituary section in their local paper is a kind of hobby. It is a way of finding out what happened to a former teacher, for instance, or a distant relative. For others, however, obituary searches are part of their job. Some of the professions that need obituary searches are genealogists, librarians, and journalists. Criminal investigations may also include obituary searches.
In other words, obituaries are an important source of information in a number of situations. They tell, in more or less detail, the most important things in a person's life, such as career achievements, surviving family members and direct ancestors, and anything else the obituary author considers worth mentioning. They are usually published in the local newspaper but, understandably, not every single death occurring in a certain town or city will find a place in the obit section of the local paper. It is worth mentioning early on that obituary searches can take quite a bit of time, especially if you don't have much information about the deceased at the beginning.
The digitalization of everything today is very good news for obituary researchers. Those in Arkansas can benefit from a lot of records that are available online, even though not all newspapers keep digital archives. Still, some of them do, and that is a definite starting point. Public libraries also have digitalized collections of newspapers that you can use. The third potential source of information about a deceased person is death certificates. Besides, there are a number of free online obituary databases. Since not all of these contain enough information to become the starting and ending point of an obituary search, they could be just the former -- you can quickly establish if they do or do not contain the information you need and move on to other sources.
One recommendation that web search experts make when it comes to obituary searches is to gather as much information as possible before you embark on the search. The most fundamental details are, of course, name, residence, and date and place of death. Then you would need to find the paper that is most likely to have published the obituary and the date that it was published. This may be particularly time-consuming if the newspaper issue you need is older and unavailable in digital format. In such cases it would be a good idea to enlist the help of library staff, who know tips and tricks that will save you time and effort.
To narrow you search, bear in mind that the newspaper in which an obituary would be published would be either one from the place of residence of the person, or one from the place where they passed away. In many cases these two locations are one and the same but that is not necessarily the case, which is why the place of death is so important an element of preliminary research.
If you think a death record would be just as useful, and it may well be, you can contact the Arkansas Department of Health, where a lot of the vital records of the state's citizens are kept. The Department keeps death records from 1914 onwards, though they also have some death certificates from the period between 1881 and 1914, for deaths that occurred in Little Rock and Fort Smith. You can search for and order a death record but only if it was issued in the period between 1935 and 1961. For death records before 1935 or after 1961, you will need to fill in a form and submit it or send it to the Arkansas Vital Records.
There are also several online databases that could land you the obituary you need, and here are a few noteworthy ones:
At Arkansas Online you will find a list of the latest obituaries, complete with name, age (of available), place of residence, and date of death. This information as accessible for free, but if you want to view the whole obituary, you would need to set up a paid subscription. Arkansas Online has obituary archives from 2010 onwards.
If you need an older obituary, particularly from the period 1819-1920, you can use the resources of the In Remembrance project. This is a digital index of deaths that occurred in the state over that century, and includes information from church records, cemetery records, mortality censuses, newspaper obituaries and death notices, and county and local records kept by the Arkansas History Commission.
Another source of obituaries is Tributes.com. At the Arkansas page you can browse the database either by name, first and last, or by location. The latter option will yield the 20 latest obituaries for a certain location, and if you don't find the one you need, you can refine your search by choosing a specific period and adding name details if you have them.
A very extensive list of relevant sources of information is available at Arkansas public libraries. These include 31 newspapers for the latest obituaries, the Arkansas State Library and its newspaper collections, a database of military records, and federal census records, among others. There is also a list of genealogical and historical organizations that could be very valuable in your research.
The State Library of Arkansas has a huge newspaper collection, containing tens of millions of pages from issues from as early as the 18th century. You can see a brief description of the online newspaper databases of the library and if you want to use these resources, you will need to log in with a remote access number or a library card number.
Another good place to go is the Genealogy Bank, where you can find any obituary published in an Arkansas newspaper between 1999 and 2014. If you click the 'Historical obituaries' section on the left-hand side panel, you will be able to search for obituaries issued between 1704 and 1999. With such an extensive database, there is a good chance that you will find the obituary you need if you have failed so far.