Obituary Searching

The library often receives requests from people who would like to obtain a copy of an obituary for a loved one who passed away locally. These requests come from all over the world! For over 150 years, obituaries have appeared in the San Jose Mercury News. Some requests are for those doing genealogical research, and know that many obituaries contain detailed information about long lost family members that can be hard to find elsewhere. Others simply want a record of the death of their parent, aunt, or cousin.

Unfortunately, we realized a number of years ago that we were unable to keep up with the many requests for these sometimes time-consuming searches. If patrons live in the area, they are welcome to come to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library and search the San Jose Mercury News themselves on the Lower Level. We have the Mercury News on microfilm going back to 1861! And we have staff there that can assist patrons with the microfilm reader/printer.

If they are not able to come in (many people call from out of state), we refer them to the Santa Clara County Library District which offers a free search for 3 obituaries per month.

You can also look through California Newspapers from 1846 to the present thanks to the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

There are several factors involved in searching for obituaries:

  • Unless the deceased person was prominent or well-known, previous to 1985 there is no way to know if an obituary was published except by searching the Mercury News on microfilm. We recommend that researchers look up to 10 days following the death of the person.
  • If the deceased passed after 1985, researchers may search through the Mercury News online. The database is accessible from home with your San Jose Public Library card, or from any San Jose library.
  • An exact date of death is necessary for anyone attempting to find an obituary. If you don’t know when the person you are seeking died and you believe it was between 1940-1997, you may check for the deceased on the California Death Index.
  • If you are doing genealogical research and believe your ancestor may have been a prominent member of San Jose society, do search the California Room Index. The California Room is a special collection of books and research materials focusing on California and local history. It is located on the 5th floor of the King Library. There you will find numerous resources which will assist you in finding relevant information about older obituaries.

Please feel free to ask a librarian if you have further questions about obituary searching!

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