For some people it is a habit to go through the obituary section of their local paper regularly. It could be a way of keeping in touch with their community, or seeing if someone they know has passed away. For others, keeping track of obituaries is part of their job. Librarians and genealogists are among these. In weirder cases, law enforcement officials have even had to use obituaries to foil criminals assuming the identities of the deceased. But that's not probably quite you, is it? Whatever your reasons for seeking out an obituary, this article will help you do it, with specific attention to the state of Michigan.
A good place to start out your search is at the official government website for the State of Michigan. It provides access to important government agencies like the Health Department and the Archives.
Obituary searches can be quick, if you are equipped with all the details about the person whose obituary you are looking for, and if it's recent. It could be a time-consuming business, though, if you lack information and if the obituary was published a long time ago in a newspaper that is no longer in circulation.
In today's increasingly digitalized environment, the first place to start such a search would be the internet, where websites with obituary databases abound. Some of these are nationwide, others are statewide. If you are looking for an obituary that was published in a Michigan newspaper, here are some of your online options.
MLive is one website that keeps a database of obituaries published in one of eight newspapers from the state. You can browse recent entries, or tap the archives. Search is, as with most such websites, name-based and place-based. You can also use an advanced search option, which will provide additional filters such as period and keyword.
One digital database that keeps historical obituaries is Family Search. You can search through Michigan obituaries dating from the period 1867 to 1897. Although the period is not too long, it is still a convenient resource for those looking for a much older obituary than usual.
Even with this choice of websites dedicated to obituaries and death notices, don't be surprised if you fail to find the notice you need. Apart from the fact that most of these do not keep century-long databases, there is also the possibility that the death of the person you are researching was not announced in a newspaper obituary. This is why collecting as much information as possible before starting your search is essential and will save you a lot of time.
In case it is impossible to gather all the details such as date of death and newspaper that could have carried an obituary, you can do some speculation and then enlist the help of qualified professionals, that is, librarians. Speculation would help you narrow down the number of newspapers that could have published a death notice or an obituary. If the decedent lived and died in the same town or city, then it will be one of the papers circulating in this location that would have published an obituary. If, however, they died in a place different from their place of residence, there is a chance that a newspaper from the former had carried a story about the event. Bear in mind that some deaths, especially resulting from accidents or epidemics that may not be reported in obituaries, are reported in news stories.
Libraries are perhaps the best source of information in an obituary search. For one thing, as already said, they have qualified staff. For another, they have extensive genealogical collections, including the runs of newspapers long gone into oblivion. What's more, some of them even have online obituary indexes that you can take advantage of before going on to locate the actual document in the library's newspaper collections.
The Saginaw Public Libraries, for instance, provide a search tool and a dedicated genealogy and history section. There are a number of filters you can apply, including searching for a particular year, or over a wider period, as well as using a wild card search if you are unsure how the name of the decedent is spelled. The index contains some 200,000 entries from the 19th century to the present day.
The Michigan City Public Library also has an obituaries search tool. The database includes around 90,000 obituaries spanning from 1887 to present day. If you find the obituary you need in the database, you can request a copy from the library.
The Mount Clemens Public Library also has a quite extensive obituary index with more than 20,000 entries from Macomb county. You can search based on name and any other information you have, and you can also check the list of newspapers from which the database is compiled.
At the Detroit Public Library, you can avail yourself of the opportunity to have the search conducted by library staff, in exchange for a set fee. You can also do the search yourself on site, free of charge. Alternatively, you can ask your local library, if different, to interloan microfilms of newspaper records from a period you have identified as most likely for the obituary to have been published.