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Ask-the-Pros — Question and Answer – 19 March 2013

From time to time we will answering questions posed on the Family History Expos website in the Ask-the-Pros section. Here is this post’s question:

Question: How do I find an obituary of a person who died in 1945 in the Ft. Bayard VA Hospital, Grant county, New Mexico?

Answer: Thank you for this interesting question. Whether or not an obituary was written and printed depends upon the decedent’s surviving family members since they would usually be the ones writing any paying for the publication of an obituary. If an individual died away from family and friends or had very limited economic means, then there may have been no obituary written. However, even absent a formal obituary, a local newspaper may have printed a death notice.

On the other hand, if the person who died was a prominent citizen in the community, someone on the newspaper staff may have written a newspaper article about the person’s death. This is also the case if the person died under unusual circumstances, such as a murder or suicide.

In all these cases, you will have to search newspapers for stories or obituaries of the deceased. Fortunately, there are huge online resources containing millions of pages of digitized newspapers. First, you may wish to check the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America, Historic Newspaper Project. The Project has digitized copies of over 6 million pages of U.S. newspapers from around the country. Even though the ancestor died in New Mexico, it is possible that his death may have been reported elsewhere, for example, in his birthplace or where he went to school. At the very least, you should search the newspapers in the county where the person died for a week or two after the date of death. In this case, you may have to search all of 1945 unless you can find a more specific death date.

On the Library of Congress website, there is a link to a database of every known newspaper printed in North America from 1690 to the present. By checking in this database, We find only the following newspaper printed  in Grant County during 1945

By clicking on the links to the newspapers, you can see information about when and where the newspapers were printed and a list of repositories that have copies. There are also several large databases of digitized newspapers online including the ones on the Library of Congress website. You might try finding access to the List of Online Newspapers on Wikipedia helpful. You can also see an extensive list from Princeton University.

In this case, another useful place to look for additional death information for this person is in veterans’ records in the National Archives and for cemetery burial information in the surrounding area. If he was a war veteran, he may have been buried in a National Cemetery. All of these places may produce more information about your ancestor’s death.

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