Tracing Immigrants Arrival Obituaries
Obituaries are an excellent source of biographical information about immigrants. In addition to names and death dates, you can learn about surviving family members, church affiliations, spouses, parents, occupations, burial places, and hometowns in the old country. Even if a place of origin is not given, an obituary may provide additional research clues, such as the date or ship of immigration or traveling companions. Much of this information cannot be found in other sources. For many immigrants, an obituary is the only “biographical sketch” ever written about them.
Obituaries were usually published in local and church newspapers. Some also appear in church, professional, company, and school periodicals. Contact institutions an immigrant may have joined and ask if they had obituary notices. Although brief death notices appear in the earliest newspapers, traditional obituaries are most common after the mid-1800s. You are most likely to find obituaries of immigrants who lived in rural areas rather than in large cities.
Search smaller, local newspapers that feature community news. Many such newspapers are available on microfilm. The Family History Library has few newspapers, but your local library can usually get copies through interlibrary loan. Local historical societies and libraries where the newspaper is published may have obituary files or indexes as well as copies of the newspapers. Many North American newspapers are listed in—
- Newspapers in Microform: United States, 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984). At various libraries (WorldCat). FHL Book 011.35 N479 1984.
It is helpful to know the exact death date before searching for an obituary. If you have the death date, search papers beginning the day after the death and search for a full week or more. For weekly papers, search at least two issues after the death. If you do not know the death date, a local library may have an index to the obituaries in that newspaper. If the paper or its successor is still being published, the publisher may have back copies or an index to obituaries. In addition to obituaries, you may find other references to the immigrant's death in a newspaper, including death and funeral notices, condolences of friends, and thank you notices from the family.