Searching for Obituaries and Death Notices
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Beginning Your Research
How do I find an obituary?
An obituary search is a great place to begin your research, but be prepared to spend some time finding what you're looking for. One search might take several hours. Obituaries are not public records and are not required to be published. When they are published, they might appear in the paper as late as two weeks after a death, complicating your search. About 10% of deaths in Tucson are not published in the newspaper at all, and for those that are, indexing is often poor.
Don't let the time commitment discourage you, though. Library staff are always happy to help you with your research. Please come to the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library downtown for in-person help, or call 791-4010 for ideas on how to get started.
How do I get started?
Start with the U.S. Social Security Death Index.
The SSDI will give the month and year of death as well as the location. It will not generally give the exact day of death, nor will it ever give the date of the obituary, if any.
You can search the SSDI by surname, given name, and social security number. Start by searching by surname and given name, limiting your search to the state of Arizona (use the advanced search option for this). If you find a match, record both the birth and death dates.
If you find an entry in the SSDI with dates that seem to match the information you have, but the place of residence at time of death is listed as somewhere outside Pima County, you may wish to also search the local newspapers (on microfilm) for an obituary.
The SSDI goes back to 1900, although most entries are from 1960 to the present. SSDI records do not include all the deaths in the United States; only those deaths where the person both had a social security number and whose death was reported to Social Security administration.
Some people who might not be in the SSDI:
If you don't find the date of death in the SSDI, you can also try:
Finding Obituaries and Death Notices
Once you have the date of death, you can start looking for an obituary or death notice. What's the difference? An obituary usually describes the life of the person and lists his or her relatives. A death notice usually only gives the name, age, occupation, and funeral home of the deceased.
Some good places to start looking for an obituary or death notice include:
- Arizona Daily Star archives (searchable online)
- Arizona Biographical Database (searchable online)
- Arizona Biography/Obituary Index (in-library use only)
Different resources or databases will have different information in them, so check the quick chart below to find where to start:
Obituary Search Quick Chart
|U.S. Social Security Death Index
|1900–present, but primarily 1960 or newer||Gives birth and death dates, social security numbers, state that issued the social security number, and residence at death. Does not give obituary date.|
|Arizona Daily Star archives
|1991–present||Death notices and text of obituaries. Photos not available. For photos, check the Arizona Daily Star microfilm at the Main Library downtown.|
|Arizona Biographical Database
|Arizona State Library collection of books, newspaper articles, periodicals, obituaries, vertical files school yearbooks, etc.||Arizona Biography/Obituary Index
(in-library use only)
|1865–1986||Mostly Phoenix area. Tucson entries likely date before 1950.|
|Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates
|Includes scanned images of birth and death certificates.||Arizona Daily Star Index
(in-library use only)
|1953–1989 (1960–1989 only lists deaths that are news stories)||Gives date, page and column where the obituary appeared in the Arizona Daily Star.|
|Arizona Death Records
(in-library use only)
|1870–1982||Gives name and birth and death dates as they appear on the tombstone.|
|Arizona Daily Star microfilm
(in-library use only)
|1880–present||Death notices and text of obituaries. Photos if published.|
|Tucson Citizen microfilm
(in-library use only)
|1879–May 16, 2009||Death notices and text of obituaries. Photos if published.|
What's the difference?
- The SSDI will give the month and year of death as well as the location. It will not generally give the exact day of death, nor will it ever give the date of the obituary, if any. See above for more information.
- Arizona Daily Star Index
- The University of Arizona compiled a series of indexes for the Arizona Daily Star covering the years 1953–1989. You can use this index on the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.
- Each volume has a list of names under the heading "Deaths." In the 1950s, these names include most of the obituaries. However, from the 1960s on, the indexes only list deaths that are news stories (i.e., accidents, murders, etc.).
- If you do find a match, the index will list the date, page, and column in which it appeared in the Arizona Daily Star. If the match is a news story, you may want to also try searching the microfilm for an obituary.
- Please note:
- The Pima County Public Library collection is missing 1954 and 1966–1969.
- The Arizona Historical Society has 1953–1958, 1960–1965, and 1970–1989.
- The University of Arizona has sets in the Information Commons and in Special Collections. A card file in the Information Commons covers the years 1966–1969.
- When to use it: If the exact date of death is either unknown or between 1953 and 1989, and the SSDI either has no entry or only gives the month/year of death. Although you may not find what you're searching for, it's worth a look.
- Arizona Death Records
- The Arizona death records are a catalog of tombstones in the state and go up to 1982. You can use this catalog on the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. The catalog lists names along with birth and death dates as they appear on the tombstone.
- When to use it: Only if the month and year of death is unknown and a search in the SSDI was unsuccessful. Of course, if the year of death is known to be after 1982, this source will not be useful.
- Although searches using the death records are not often successful, when a name is found, it can be a breakthrough in either finding the actual obituary or in furthering your research.
- Arizona Genealogy Birth and Death Certificates
- On this site you can search for microfilmed scanned images of birth and death certificates issued by the county or state. The microfilmed documents on this site are copies from the Official Archives of the State.
- When to use it: When the date of birth or death is between 1844 and 1958.
- Arizona Biography/Obituary Index
- This microfiche index covers the years 1865–1986. You can use it on the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. Most of the entries are Phoenix-area obituaries. Usually the only entries from the Tucson area are when the date of death is before 1950.
- When to use it: When the date of death is prior to 1950, and there are either no results or incomplete information from searching the other sources.
- Arizona Biographical Database
- Search the Arizona State Library's collection of books, newspaper articles, periodicals, obituaries, vertical files, school yearbooks, etc. Though this database only lists the person's name and where that person is mentioned, you can usually find when and where in Arizona the person lived.
- Arizona Daily Star archives
- If the date of death is from 1991 to the present, it may be in the Arizona Daily Star archives. If it is, you will find the full text of the obituary or death notice as well the exact date and page number in the microfilm. Some people prefer photocopies of obituaries as they appeared in the newspaper, as opposed to how they appear in the database. The newspaper may include a photograph of the deceased.
- When to use it: If the date of death is after 1990, try the archives after searching the SSDI.
A public record is a brief death notice appearing in the newspaper. It lists name, age, date of death, sometimes occupation, and the funeral home that handled the arrangements. Not every family chooses to pay for an obituary. If you have an exact date of death, search for a public record in the absence of an obituary. If only the month of death is known, it will be very time-consuming to look for a public record, since they are on different pages each day.
Sometimes people aren't sure if the person they are searching for is actually deceased. Check the residential telephone directories and Pima County Assessor's records to see if you can find possible matches for the name.Return to top
Resources Available at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library
Although more and more historical records are becoming available online, there are many more that can only be searched in person. Library staff are always happy to help you with your research. Please come to the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library downtown for in-person help, or call 791-4010 for ideas on how to get started.
You can use the Arizona Collection on the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. This collection features prominent Arizonans in an number of books, including the Arizona Biographical Dictionary, Arizona's Men of Achievement, Arizona Women's Hall of Fame, and Who's Who in Arizona.
We have many resources (often microfiche or microfilm) that can be used on the third floor of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. See the quick chart for more information.
Other Local Resources
Arizona Historical Society
The Arizona Historical Society also has access to many records and can assist you in your research.
There are several cemeteries in Tucson. If you have a date of death, they will look up a name in their records. Their records have the person's birth and death dates and the burial records.
All Faiths Cemeteries
2151 S. Avenida Los Reyes, Tucson, AZ 85748
East Lawn Palm Cemetery
5801 E. Grant Road, Tucson, AZ 85712
Green Valley Mortuary and Cemetery
18751 S La Canada, Tucson, AZ 85629
Holy Hope Cemetery (Diocese of Tucson Catholic Cemeteries)
3555 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, AZ 85705
3015 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, AZ 85705
South Lawn Cemetery
5401 S. Park Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85706
225 North Country Club Road, 85716
Tucson Cemetery Association (includes Evergreen Mortuary Cemetery Crematory and Masonic Cemetery)
3015 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, AZ 85705
How to search the Arizona Daily Star microfilm
Try to start with an exact date of death, or as close to an exact date as you can find. If you do have an exact date, we suggest searching each day's paper for seven days after that date. If the death was a murder, we suggest searching for up to fourteen days, as in those cases, it often takes longer for remains to be released to families. If all you have is a month of death, we suggest searching each day's paper for that month, plus the first seven days of the following month.
The further back in time you go, the more difficult the search will be. Newspapers change their obituary policies and placement over time. While we don't have exact dates for those when those changes occurred, here are some general guidelines:
- From the 1870s until the early 1950s, Tucson newspapers did not have an obituaries section. In the early twentieth century, the Tucson Citizen did occasionally have a mortuary section, but its appearance was sporadic. Deaths usually appeared as news items or notices scattered throughout the paper. This makes searching a whole month very difficult, since you will need search the entire month, scanning each page. However, there are some pages that never have death stories: sports, society, comics, and editorial.
- Prior to 1917, the Tucson Citizen is generally a better place to start looking for death notices. After that, the Arizona Daily Star expanded and so is a better choice. When you know an exact date of death, it's best to search both newspapers just to be sure.
- Death stories prior to the 1940s were rare. Usually papers only printed stories about prominent citizens. After the 1940s, obituaries steadily increased until in the 1960s they became an regular section of the paper.
- Although in the 1950s there was an obituaries section, it appears in a different part of the paper each day, so look at the table of contents to see where the section is. If there is an exact date of death, the whole paper needs to be scanned, because sometimes death stories are separate from the obituaries section. The Arizona Daily Star indexes are particularly helpful in the early 1950s because they list all the deaths, even the obituaries.
- From the early 1960s through 1993, obituaries in the Arizona Daily Star are at the beginning of the classified ads. Through an agreement with the Tucson Citizen in the later 1960s, the obituaries in both papers are exactly the same, so you do not need to search both newspapers.
- From 1994 to 1999, the Arizona Daily Star put obituaries in section A, just prior to the Weather page.
- From 2000 to 2008, the Arizona Daily Star put obituaries in section B, usually on page two of that section.
- Starting in 2009, the Arizona Daily Star began putting obituaries on the last page of the Tucson & Region section.
- The Tucson Citizen published its last print newspaper on May 16, 2009.
Live Outside Pima County?
If you live outside of Pima County and are not able to visit our library, your local library may be able to help, possibly by borrowing microfilm through an interlibrary loan, or by using online research tools. Although Pima County Public Library does not lend our microfilm, other institutions such as the Arizona State Library and the University of Arizona do.