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  Step-by-Step Instructions for Locating Obituaries in Southern California

 

 

Step #1 - Develop your Research Plan

Approach your search as you would a trip. Figure out where you want to go and gather your facts. Then set off on your journey.

Before you start looking for an obituary, pull together what you know about this ancestor. Note the birth and death dates for all the family members, not just the ancestor you're searching. Develop a timeline of the family. Include places as well as dates. If you have obituaries for any other family member, including brothers and sisters, review those to see who is listed as "preceded in death" and which siblings are listed as survivors. After you've organized your notes about your relative, it's time to start your active search.

Click on the signpost icon to get more tips on planning your search, and download the Obit Search form to help keep yourself organized.

 

Step #2 - Obtain a Death Certificate from Vital Records

The key to a successful obit search is to have correct information about your ancestor's death. The death certificate forms the foundation for a successful obituary lookup. Click on the courthouse icon to go to the detailed discussion of vital records. You'll also find link pages and contact information for vital records offices in Southern California.

You'll be tempted to skip this step and go directly to the search for an obituary. If you do, you'll probably cut the odds of finding an obituary in half. Here's why. Let's take Los Angeles for example.

  • Los Angeles is BIG--over 4,000 square miles.

  • There have been a LOT of funerals. Literally millions of people have died in LA.

  • Los Angeles has LOTS of places to look for obituaries.

Your ancestors could have lived in any one of about 100 towns in L. A. County. It's human nature for people to "round up" or say they live in <insert name of largest nearby town> when talking to others who do not live in the area.

To make matters worse, many of the towns "in L. A." are not even in Los Angeles County. They could be one of the towns that border Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, or Ventura Counties. That certainly complicates things when looking for information on a family member!

Give yourself a fighting chance to find an obituary. If you obtain a death certificate, you will know for certain:

    • the name of the town in which your relative resided
    • the last known address
    • the accurate date of death

Are you convinced? Click on this icon for help on obtaining documented proof of your ancestor's last known address and date of death.

 

Step #3 - Look at proximity.

The next step in the process to obtain an obituary is to determine what towns or areas might be promising areas in which to look for obituaries.

Since 1880, nearly 400 newspapers have been published for residents of Los Angeles. Some of these newspapers are citywide (such as the Los Angeles Times or Herald) and some are neighborhood publications. Generally speaking, the smaller neighborhood publications are more likely to print an obituary, while the large newspapers are more likely to run a death notice. The Los Angeles Times prints obituaries for celebrities, for the rich and powerful, and, depending on space availability, for just plain folk.

Other newspapers publish for-pay obituaries, which can be either very short, or very lavish and quite entertaining. Here's to ancestors who had some coin to put toward a long, gossipy obit!

Click on the compass to use our Community locator.

 

Step #4 - Find Newspapers

Nearly 400 newspapers since 1880--that's the number I mentioned earlier. Some of these papers, like the Los Angeles Times, have been in continuous publication since that time. Others have been published nearly as long, but have changed names several times. Still others were in business for only a few months.

We have inventoried the newspaper holdings for some of Los Angeles county's libraries, and we will be updating this listing for quite some time to come. Use the holding list to find newspaper(s) that match the time frame and geography in which your ancestor lived.

This list also provides information on the library systems that carry the newspaper(s) in their collection. If you're lucky, you'll be able to find your paper in several library systems. Click on the newspaper icon to go to the newspaper lists, and then Use "find (on this page)" to look for "Los Angeles Times." You'll see several libraries listed. Lucky you!

(Newbie note: The "find (on this page)" command is on the "edit" option on the toolbar, upper right hand corner of the window. Keep hitting "find next" to see all the listings for the newspaper.)

The newspaper icon will take you to the inventory of newspaper holdings.

 

 

Step #5 - Find a Repository to Contact

The Repository list includes links to Southern California libraries, newspapers, genealogical societies and historical societies. In many cases, we have included an email address for your convenience. You will also see a notation for whether the Research Librarian will perform lookups upon request.

Unfortunately, Southern California's largest repository, the Los Angeles Public Library, does not do lookups. Further, their holdings are accessible only at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. However, they do maintain a list of paid genealogists that you can hire if you need a newspaper that is available only at the LA Public Library.

If you have the luxury of choosing among several libraries or repositories, make life easy for yourself and pick the one that does lookups!

Click on the library icon to go to the Repository page.

 

Step #6 - Obtain an Obituary

All your preparation leads up to this step. If you are able to visit the library or repository in person, the links will lead you to information on the library's hours, location, and policies.

If you live outside the area, use the information to contact a library that does lookups (and which has the right newspaper. We have included email addresses for some libraries for your convenience.

Many of the Southern California libraries offer access to a reference librarian through online chat on a 24-hour basis. The libraries that offer this "Ask-A-Librarian" service can also be contacted by filling out an electronic form on the library's website.

If you need a newspaper that is held at a library that does not do lookups, we have provided you with several links to sites where you can request a lookup. Some of these resources will do lookups for free or a very small charge; others may charge a bit more.

Rub the headstone to go to the Obituary Request page. You'll find tips on formulating a good query, in addition to the resource links.

 

Step #7 - You struck out. Where do you go from here?

We estimate that this method will succeed about 80 percent of the time. Unfortunately, that means that about 20 percent of the time, you may not find an obituary, no matter how hard you look.

Maybe the relative's family chose not to publish information on your ancestor's death. Maybe your relative lived in Southern California for only a short period of time, or died while visiting the area. Maybe the newspaper issue you want is just not available. Now what do you do?

Click on the chain for other ideas you might try.

 

Step #8 - Give Back

Like so many genealogy activities, this website is a volunteer effort. We depend on the contributions of people like you to verify and expand the information we are able to share. You'll notice that while much of the Los Angeles and Orange County information has been added to the repository and newspaper lists, much of the detail is missing for the remaining counties. We invite representatives from these counties to join the Southern California Obituary Resource Project team.

Several different types of volunteer activities can be found by clicking on the "Volunteer" link.

 

Want More Information?

The goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive centralized reference guide to all of the obituary resources throughout Southern California.

The project will span the counties of Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura and San Diego. The project will be freely shared with USGenWeb websites, genealogy societies, and other interested organizations.

During the first phase of the project, volunteers will inventory libraries (public libraries, college and university libraries, and law libraries), newspaper publishers, genealogical societies and historical societies to develop a complete list of newspaper holdings.

After this first phase is finished, the project will be expanded to include information on cemetery and funeral home directors who maintain obituary files.

Future website developments include adding online submission of lookup requests, organizing a group of lookup volunteers, and updating information on libraries and other repositories. We plan to expand our technical capabilities to include a faster, stronger search capability.

If you have a question that has not been answered in these web pages, just click on the Question Mark to send an email to the Southern California Obituary Resource Project team.

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This page was last modified on Saturday, 24-May-2003 14:29:41 MDT

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