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Kentucky Obituaries

Obituaries may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about research, but they are in fact a treasured resource for historians and family history seekers alike. Before we get too far into it, now that obituaries are to be distinguished from death notices -- these are very short paid announcements of a person's death in a newspaper, commonly including the name of the decedent, their age, and/or the place where the funeral service will take place. Obituaries tend to be significantly longer on many occasions, detailing more about the life of the decedent, their major achievements, likes and dislikes, as well as listing the surviving family members. In short, they're much more personal.

Obituaries can thus tell you a lot about someone, which makes them invaluable in genealogical research. They seem to be easy to find at first glance, as most newspapers have some kind of an obituary or at least a death notice section. However, newspapers cannot publish obituaries for every single person who dies in the city or region where they circulate, so the first step in an obituary search would be to make sure there is one. You can do this using the most accessible source of information of all - the internet (yay, technology!).

Online Databases

If you are looking for an obituary published in a Kentucky newspaper, you can start at the site. This database displays the most recent deaths that received a published obituary in every city and town in the state but you can also browse older records as long as you know the name of the town where the person lived and/or died. If these were two different places, check with both, as obituaries can appear in newspapers in either of these locations.

Vital Records

One alternative to obituaries when it comes to genealogy are death certificates, the official documents issued upon someone's death. These are the property of the Kentucky State Department of Health. In Kentucky, the Office of Vital Statistics holds death records dating back to 1911. To get a copy of a death record, you would need to supply the Office with a filled in application form, a check or money order to pay for the service, and a number of details to make the search possible. These include the full name of the decedent, the exact date of their death, and the county in which it occurred. The typical processing time for such requests is up to 30 working days. It is evident that this option is only available if you know all of these details, and that is not always the case. What's more, you may be looking for a death record issued earlier than 1911, and that would be obituaries or other reports of death in newspapers or personal journals, since the state of Kentucky only started officially registering births and deaths in 1911.

Public Libraries

Public libraries are your best bet for a historical document, along with a couple of other repositories including state archives and historical/genealogical societies. All libraries have records of newspapers, both existing and historical, and have trained staff that could perform an obituary search for you. Some, like the Henderson County Public Library, have online search tools specifically for obituaries from the area. The Henderson library has a database of obituaries published between January 1961 and present day, for example.

The Lawrence County Public Library also features an obituary search tool, which searches a database of obituaries that have appeared in the Big Sandy News, spanning a period from 1885 to the present day.

The Boyd County Public Library, for its part, has a number of genealogical databases, including obituaries, cemetery indexes, and cemetery records, which, in the absence of an obituary, can be used to confirm an ancestor's death. Alternatively, they can serve to narrow the date range for when the death occurred, helping you find the obituary.

Aside from ample genealogical resources, public libraries also have online tools that could help you locate an obituary. These include subscription-only nationwide databases, which would be otherwise inaccessible. Also, some libraries keep a list of genealogists or genealogical societies, which you can approach for help with your own research. In short, libraries offer a wide range of services to make your obituary search more successful.

Department for Libraries and Archives

The Kentucky Archives is also a goof source of information as they have extensive collections of vital records, including death records for the period 1852 to 1910, prior to the Department of Health starting to officially register the events. These records are available on microfilm and a purchase can be ordered online, using a standard order form available on the Archives' website. The Archives also has microfilm rolls of death records for the period 1911 to 1962, but you will need to buy the roll for a whole year if you choose this option.

The Department for Libraries and Archives is the official keeper of a lot of public records in Kentucky and as such is a very valuable source of information. Its collections also include deed books and will books, as well as military records. However, it needs noting that the Archives does not hold cemetery and church records -- these can be found at the Kentucky Historical Society. The Society has extensive online genealogical resources, including newspaper and journal runs and links to a number of other resources, including the Archives, the Vital Statistics Office, and the Kentucky Virtual Library.

Searching for an obituary in Kentucky has been made much easier than before with the digitalization of a lot of information resources such as newspaper archives and some library collections. Still, remember to be patient as some searches, which start with scarce information, may take quite a lot of time until all parts of the picture fit together.