Obituary Research Guide

Does Everyone Get an Obituary?

Not necessarily. Unless the deceased was particularly well-known, the individual’s will or the wishes of their family determine whether an obituary or death notice is published. Many people die without a notice at all. 

What is the Difference between Death Notices, Death Announcements, Obituaries, Death Certificates, and Death Records?

A death notice is a paid notice families write and submit to publications of their choosing. Death notices typically announce that a person has died and include minor biographical information and details of funeral services. Death notices are often also referred to as death announcements.

An obituary is an article about a person’s death that gives detailed information on their life. Obituaries are usually written by reporters rather than families; some newspapers allow families to request an obituary for a loved one, but the publication decides whether to write one.

A death certificate is an official document issued by state governments that declares the cause, location, and time of death, along with some other information about a deceased individual. Death certificates are often also referred to as death records

First Steps to Take to Find Death Notices and Obituaries:

Make note of the deceased’s full name, any former names, and their birth and death dates. If they have a very common name, information about their hobbies, career, or other unique parts of their life may be helpful.

Start with the areas the deceased was most active or lived in for the longest period of time:

If the Deceased was Active or Lived in or near Patchogue, New York :

Long Island Advance:

  • For deaths between 2007 and today, the Newsbank Long Island Advance database has full-text obituaries that appeared in the Advance. This database is available at the Patchogue-Medford Library.
  • For deaths between 1979 and 2007, viewing the 2 issues of the Advance following the date of death may determine whether the deceased received an obituary in the Advance – the Patchogue-Medford Library has microfilm of the Long Island Advance from these years.
  • For deaths between December 1926 and 1979, NY State Historic Newspapers has full searchable scans of the Advance.
  • For deaths between 1879 and 1926, the Patchogue-Medford Library’s Index to Birth, Marriage and Death Announcements will return the date of the issue of the Advance that a particular death announcement appeared in. Once you know this date, we can look for a death notice with you – the Patchogue-Medford Library has microfilm of the Long Island Advance from 1872 to the present (with some irregularities between 1872 and 1882).

If the Deceased was Active or Lived Elsewhere in New York State : 

If the Deceased was Active or Lived Outside of New York State – 

Check local newspaper websites in places the deceased was active or lived; many publications have online obituary searches. Public libraries local to that area may be helpful since they likely have thorough knowledge of local periodicals.

If the Deceased was Active or Lived Outside of the United States:

Generally, try the same processes as within the United States – locate news publications local to areas the person lived, died, or was active. Try various internet searches with information about the deceased – foreign countries vary in their notices of death. Public libraries local to that area may be helpful.

Obituary Research Resources

Obituary Research Resources Available at the Patchogue-Medford Library:

  • Library genealogists can assist you in tracing your ancestors and helping find relevant information online, such as census, immigration, and vital records.
  • Local history librarians can assist you in researching Long Island communities, families, and towns throughout history.
  • To schedule an appointment with a genealogist or local history librarian at the Patchogue-Medford Library, contact us.


  • NewsBank’s America’s Obituaries & Death Notices database has obituaries from over 4,500 publications across the U.S. and is searchable by names, dates, and text within obituaries.
  • Ancestry Library Edition provides access to death notices and obituaries in Ancestry’s billions of records.
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society’s AmericanAncestors database includes dozens of collections, such as ‘New York Evening Post: Death Notices, 1801-1890’ and ‘New York: Long Island Cemetery Inscriptions, 1652-1910‘.
  • Ancestry’s HeritageQuest database provides access to 94 million Social Security Death Index records, 1935-2014.
  • The Patchogue-Medford Library has microfiche for The New York State Vital Records Index. This microfiche starts in 1881 and currently includes deaths up to 1964; this does not include New York City. The deceased’s last name and year of death will return an index number and location for their death certificate; this information may be necessary to obtain a death certificate. 

Resources Available to All Suffolk County Public Library Cardholders on Live-brary.com:

To access these resources, visit Live-brary.com and choose ‘Research Databases’ for a list of databases in alphabetical order. You may need to sign into Live-brary with your library card number and password. For help, contact us.

  • ProQuest U.S. Newsstream provides access to obituaries from over 1,100 local, regional, and national newspapers from 1980 to the present.
  • Gale Custom Newspapers provides access to obituaries from 1000+ regional, national, and international newspapers.
  • Ancestry’s Fold3 database provides access to obituaries of many U.S. military servicemembers.
  • MyHeritage: Library Edition’s ‘Death, Burial, Cemetery, & Obituaries’ section provides access to diverse collections from all over the world.
  • Gale New York State Newspapers provides access to obituaries from some newspapers of Albany, Buffalo, and Syracuse, plus the New York Observer, New York Times, New York Post, and New York Daily News.
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Amsterdam News provides access to obituaries from between 1922 and 1993 from New York Amsterdam News, one of the nation’s leading 20th century Black newspapers. 

Other Obituary Research Resources:

  • FindAGrave: the world’s largest collection of gravesites, often including death notices.
  • ObitMessenger: customized Legacy obituary news delivered directly to your email inbox. Alerts can be set for particular news publications, names, cities, words, and phrases (e.g. “Long Island” or “Patchogue” or “Patchogue-Medford Library”).

Many of these resources overlap in area or time periods covered; this guide is not exhaustive.

 

First Steps to Take to get a Death Certificate: 

Generally, only close family or those with a documented lawful claim can obtain a death certificate.

For deaths in New York State, the town hall in the deceased’s place of death may retain local death records. 

Alternatively, for deaths in New York State after 1881, the New York State Department of Health Vital Records Unit has certificates for the state except New York City. For information on obtaining a New York State death certificate, visit health.ny.gov/vital_records/death

For deaths after 1949 in New York City, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Office of Vital Records has certificates for all 5 boroughs. For information on city death certificates before 1949 or to obtain a New York City death certificate, visit here

For deaths occurring outside of New York State, contact the Department of Health in the state the death occurred for more information.