Genealogists often focus exclusively on historic obituaries for good reason. They are rich with family relationships and personal narratives. However, we do ourselves and our decedents a disservice if we do not also keep up with contemporary family history. One of the best ways I know to do this without a lot of effort is to keep an eye out for obituaries of family members. I’ll certainly know when and where any immediate family members pass, and obtaining an obituary typically isn’t a problem. But I most probably won’t know about second or third cousins passing or the spouses or children of great, great aunts or uncles.
Fortunately for me – and you – there is a super easy solution, and it is FREE. As my Dad would say, “you can’t beat that with a stick.”
Legacy.com is an online obituary and memorial collection and distribution service. They scour newspapers from 800 newspapers worldwide and/or accept submissions from these papers in an attempt to collect as many obituaries as possible. The obits are for deaths that are happening now, today. They are not historic obituaries in as much as you won’t find 18th or 19th Century death notices. But as I mentioned if you want to keep on top of family tree changes now, this is a great source.
This is the place to go to find Great Aunt Millie’s obituary after she passed last week in a town 500 miles from you.
How to Use Legacy.com
As with most Internet database sites, you need to sign up. But signing up is free, and you only need to give your name and email address. Once you sign up you can search the databases for any obituary you want then copy or download at your convenience.
Archived Obits for a Fee
Legacy.com charges a small fee ($2-$3) for any obituary older than a couple weeks – obits they consider archived. The depth and breath of the archives are wholly dependent on what obits they have collected from which papers over what time period. You can see the list of papers and archived dates reflected on the website.
How to Get Real Time Obits for Free
The really neat feature Legacy.com offers is the alert system – Obit Messenger. If a newspaper reflects a community where your family lives – you can see the list of newspapers to which it subscribes or garners obits – then you can set up an alert. The Legacy.com Obit Messenger will email you if and when any obits occur in that newspaper that meet your criteria. Oooh! For example, if you are interested in the “Debbrecht” family and you know they live in Wichita, Kansas, and the paper there for obits is the Wichita Eagle, you can set up an alert, for Legacy.com to send you by email any obits from a particular newspaper that references “Debbrecht.” Neat.
But wait! There’s more. If you are interested in a particular community, town, or village, you can set up an alert for Legacy.com to send you any and all obits from that community. For example, my mother is from a small farming community west of Wichita, Kansas. She’s related to almost everyone in that town and / or two neighboring towns. So, I’ve set up an alert to send me any obits from those three towns. I typically don’t get more than one or two emails per month. It may be obvious, but I wouldn’t recommend this approach for a large city, i.e.Chicago, unless you want a bazillion emails.
Again, this alert system is only for obits published now. It is not designed for historic searches. For late 20th Century or 21st Century, you’ll need to go the route of searching the databases and paying the fee.
Check out legacy.com. It’s a neat little service, and it makes keeping up with the changes in your family tree – at least the deaths – super easy.