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Georgia Obituaries

Obituaries and death notices are the two most common ways in which a person's death is announced in the print media. These announcements can be very useful for a variety of professionals, aside from their primary purpose as a basic way of informing a community about someone's passing. Today, with the digitalization of record keeping, obituaries too have evolved. Not only are traditional newspaper obituaries often stored online, but websites allowing individuals to memorialize their loved ones themselves are also sprouting up.

Obituary research can be a lengthy endeavor, especially if you are doing it for the first time and/or you have scarce information about the person whose obituary you've set out to find. Even in the 21st century, a web search alone may not be enough to land you the obituary you need. Despite the availability of a number of good obituary databases online, they by no means include all obituaries ever published in the United States - especially those of smaller newspapers.

The most important pieces of information that you need in order to start an obituary search are the full name of the decedent, and their place and date of death. You could perform an online search with a full name only, or with a date of death only, and maybe even location only, but your chances improve with each additional piece of information you can provide. After all, it would be very difficult to find a newspaper that may (or may not) have published an obituary, if you don't know the town or city in which it circulates. It is worth remembering that not all deaths get obituaries in the local newspaper. If an exhaustive search proves unsuccessful, you can always petition the state for a death certificate (helpful, though less detailed).

In Georgia, vital records are kept at the Department of Public Health. If you want to get a copy of a death certificate, you should be able to prove that you are a direct family member or have another legitimate interest. The service is paid and requests can only be submitted by mail or in person. The Department of Health keeps death certificates dating back to 1919, so if the document you need is older than that, your best bet is to go to the vital records office in the county where the death occurred -- these sometimes keep older death records (though they can be hit or miss).

For older obituaries and death certificates you can also try the Georgia Archives, which keep extensive historical collections, including records of local periodicals, and a personal name index of people appearing in the collections. Some of these are available online, like the name index, so you can do a preliminary search before using the resources on site.

Public libraries in Georgia are an even better source of information when it comes to obituary searches. They keep records of both existing and historical newspapers, which could be particularly useful if the obituary you are looking for appeared in a newspaper that is no longer in circulation. Libraries also have various other reference resources that you can use.

The Digital Library of Georgia is a particularly good source. This GALILEO project centers around collecting all sorts of historical and cultural resources from all libraries in Georgia, and making them available in electronic form. It goes without saying that this could save a researcher a lot of time.

One of the collections at the Digital Library of Georgia is of African American funeral programs, originally kept by the East Central Georgia Library. The collection has more than 1,000 programs, spanning from 1933 to 2008. The information they include has great genealogical value -- it includes not just the schedule of the service, but also an obituary of the deceased, a photograph, and biographical details, such as names of relatives and places where the person had lived previously, as well as the place they are buried. There is a search tool available on the home page of the collection, where you can filter by year of death, name, place, and funeral site.

The DLG also hosts two historical newspaper collections, one from Athens, covering the period between 1827 and 1922, and the other from Atlanta, covering newspapers circulating during the period 1847 to 1922. The first collection has the records of five papers, with a total of 57,000 pages. The digital images are both full-text searchable, and searchable by date. The second collection has records from 14 papers, with over 67,000 pages, searchable by text and date as well.

Regional libraries could also be a great source of obituary information, as they are more likely to collect the records of local newspapers, and small local newspapers are the ones that publish more obituaries than big-city editions. For example, the Lake Blackshear regional library has genealogical resources including obituary databases for four counties: Crisp, Dooly, Schley, and Sumter. The obituaries span a period from the 19th century to the present day and are freely available to view online.

Another regional library, the Thomas County public library system, offers a collection of more than 3,000 obituaries, an index of which, including full names, and the birth and death years, is available online. The library also keeps over 700,000 genealogical records on microfiche. It partners with the Thomasville Genealogical Library, which keeps a variety of family history documents, including death records.