How to Find an Obituary in California

by Wayne Wallace, studioD

Tracking down an obituary in California does not have to be a dead end. Like most states, California provides a virtual roadmap of options when seeking obituaries for legal documentation, for genealogical records or out of simple curiosity. Luckily, the Internet simplifies the task of finding obituaries from California newspapers. Today, even the smallest newspaper is likely to keep an online obituary archive. These archives are searchable. Once you find an obituary, you can print it or save it to a computer.

Finding an Obituary in California

Perform a search for the deceased on a major search engine. Be sure to perform two searches, one with first and last name, and one with first, last and middle. Include "California" in both searches. With any luck, a ready-to-print obituary will appear on the monitor. Before proceeding with printing, double-check the name and date of death to be certain it is the correct obituary. If the search comes up empty, or has too many matches, then proceed to Step 2.

Verify the place and date of death. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for California can easily accomplish this task. This is a powerful database with many search parameters including state and city. The SSDI is only searchable back to the 1940s, when the federal government began doling out checks. For obituaries prior to 1940, census records can provide valuable information regarding the deceased's last place of residence. Census Finder is a free genealogical database that lists census information for California by decade.

Crosscheck for the deceased in the California Obituary Archive. This online database allows users to search for published obituaries in California by name, publication date or obituary keyword. Hint: Sometimes using the name of the deceased as a keyword yields better results than putting it in the name field. This database is useful, but not extensive.

Peruse the deceased's local newspapers. Once the death location is established, the quest for a California obituary becomes much easier. Most modern-day California newspapers run obituaries daily, or at least weekly in smaller communities. However if the desired obituary is dated more than 20 years ago, the search may be a little more challenging.

Use the free resources at Ancestry.com. Another powerful tool for unearthing California obituaries is the free state obituary search at Ancestry.com. The website provides an index of California newspapers with links to published obituaries. Some of California's oldest newspapers archive their obituaries as far back as 150 years.

Contact the California Obituary Lookup Volunteer Group. If the obituary remains buried after exhausting Steps 1 to 5, there is one more possible resource to find an obituary in California. The California Obituary Lookup Volunteer Group is dedicated to helping like-minded citizens dig up information. The volunteers are organized by county and the group's website details services offered by each member.

Tips

  • When using the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), remember that the deceased had to be registered with the Social Security Administration. Although the vast majority of California citizens are now registered, this was not the case in the early years of Social Security.
  • Until relatively recently, most California newspapers printed obituaries about once a month or, at best, once a week. It is important to search dates at least one month after the death date.

About the Author

Wayne Wallace is a freelance photojournalist with more than 25 years of experience. His credits include "The Miami Herald," "Fort Worth Star-Telegram," "Lubbock Avalanche-Journal," "Key West Citizen" and "Business Week Magazine." Wallace has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida.

Photo Credits