Searching for obituaries can be a difficult task, especially when you might be looking up deaths that occurred decades ago or if you don't have a lot of information to go on. Naturally, the more information you have, the easier it will be to locate any kind of historical document. The minimum you're going to need is the last name of the person, since all online obituary databases require at least this piece of information in order for a search to be performed. A full name would be better, of course, as it will narrow down the number of results such a search would yield. Knowing the place of residence and death of the person can help to facilitate things further, as there will be a maximum of two sets of newspapers that could have published an obituary -- on the one hand, those that circulate in the place of residence of the decedent, and on the other, those in the place of their death, in case the two are not the same place.
Understandably, the more recent the obituary you need, the more likely you are to have an easy time acquiring all this information. What's more, digital databases are more comprehensive with recent obituaries, as many newspapers now allow people to submit obituaries directly online, and these databases are included in the specialized websites. So, if you are looking for an obituary that was published in a Mississippi newspaper in the last few years, your only job would be to open first obituary database that your search engine offers, and enter the name, place of residence and date of death. Chances are that the database will yield the exact obituary you are looking for. Alternatively, it will give you the name of the paper and the date the obituary was published.
The search becomes challenging, however, if you don't know the full name of the person and have no way of knowing if the death was even reported in a newspaper obituary. Still, there are a number of options you can use, both online and offline, to locate the record or, if there is none, get a copy of the death certificate of this person. Your best allies in this quest are specialized websites, public libraries, historical and genealogical societies, and government agencies.
The big, national obituary websites will give you an index entry containing the full name of the decedent, the date of their death, the name of the newspaper that carried the obituary and the date of publication. Some will provide you with the full text of the obituary, or an image of the obituary as it appeared in the paper. While most of these websites require a paid subscription to display the full text of an obituary, the minimum information you can typically get for free.
From this stage you can either approach the newspaper directly, browsing through its digital archives, or you can find it in the newspaper collection of either your local library or, better still, at the library in the place of residence of the decedent. However, the digital newspaper archives option is only valid for relatively recent obituaries that appeared in still existing newspapers. In this respect, bear in mind that most newspapers' digital archives only contain information from recent years, and for an older issue you would need to contact the newspaper by e-mail or in writing to request a copy of the obituary. The situation is more complex when the obituary you are looking for -- and are certain that it exists -- was published in a newspaper that has gone out of circulation. In this case, a library or an historical society would be your best bet.
One excellent source of information for Mississippi is the official government website, www.ms.gov. The website contains extensive information about where you can find obituaries and other death records, complete with links to the respective information repositories. Digitalization has made things simpler than before. Many archive collections are now available online, although most are only accessible in hard copy. Still, access to those is easy.
Public libraries, for their part, keep extensive microfilm collections of newspapers both existing and historical, and library staff would help you find the issue you need. Some of these records date back to the beginning of the 19th century, something that you won't find on an obituary website. What's more, public libraries have the major advantage of having qualified staff that are seasoned in information searches and will save you a lot of time. Besides, newspaper records are not the only resource available at the library. There are also a host of other collections that could prove useful in an obituary search, such as census data and other historical documents.
Historical and genealogical societies in the state, along with the Mississippi State Archives are also invaluable in an obituary search. The State Archives has an impressive genealogy database that includes death records and county records such as wills and deeds. Furthermore, the Archives keep a collection of Dawes Rolls, the output from the Dawes Commission work on establishing tribal membership for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes. These rolls contain a lot of genealogical information that could be used in compiling family histories.
County records can also be of great help. Though Mississippi may not have too many online resources regarding obituaries and other forms of death announcements, the few that it has are very extensive. This is particularly the case with cemetery records. You can find lengthy lists of gravestones in various Mississippi counties. Such information could kickstart an obituary search as it will give you the full name of an ancestor, or it could preempt the search altogether if there is no record to be found. In some counties there are also local death indexes from the newspapers circulating in the area over a certain period which can also be useful.