Obituary Lookup Volunteers - Volunteering

Becoming an
Obituary Lookup Volunteer


Becoming a volunteer is very easy.  Please consider
volunteering for your area, even on a limited basis,
because every lookup helps someone.

What an Obituary Lookup Volunteer Does

When someone sends you an obituary lookup request, you do the following:


Since this is a volunteer arrangement, you may charge only for postage and reimbursement of copies.  No charges may be made for your time or mileage.  You are supporting a system that provides everyone, including yourself, with volunteer help in obtaining obituaries from faraway places.

** UPDATE - Volunteers are now allowed to charge $1.00 for Gas while the prices are so high due to the Hurricanes. **

Many of our volunteers need to limit the number of lookup trips, and we include phrases such as "Once a month," "Lookups may take 2-3 weeks or more," etc., in their listings. That way, they can combine lookup trips with other errands and/or do lookups only once a month.

Finding Out What Resources Are Available

If you would like to volunteer but don't know what resources are available to you, here is what you need to do:

Looking Up Obituaries

When you look up an obituary, here are some things to consider:

  • Paid and Unpaid Obituaries:  Some newspapers have both paid and unpaid obituaries. Generally, a paid obituary can be anything the family wants to say, in any length, as the cost is by length. A free obituary is kept factual and contains only standard information. For example, free obituaries in some newspapers no longer include the names of the parents of deceased adults. Sometimes a family is surprised by what is deleted in a free obit, and will pay for a paid obit the next day or two.
  • Errors:  If errors are made in an obituary, the newspaper will run another one, probably in the next day or two, but sometimes later.
  • Publication Date:  The time between the date of death and the obituary publication date varies. Long ago, evening newspapers might have published the obituary on the date of death. Nowadays, if the death occurs on Friday, sometimes the obit doesn't run until the next week, because some staffs don't work on the weekend. If an obituary is not found in the editions published soon after the death, or if the obit doesn't contain enough information, searching up to two weeks after the death might yield better results.
  • Related Articles:  If the cause of death was something newsworthy, such as a car crash, look for news articles about it. There also might be tributes published after the obituary or thank you's paid for by the family. Sometimes memorials are published a year after the death.
  • Multiple Newspapers:  If the deceased lived in an area served by more than one newspaper, the obituary or death notice might be published in each newspaper, possibly with different amounts of information.

Deciding How Much You'd Like to Do

Many volunteers are able to easily handle all the requests they receive.  However, others would like to participate but are concerned that they might be taking on too much. It's very important that you have fun doing whatever lookups you do, so we are happy to add limits to your listing to keep the number of lookups manageable; even one lookup benefits someone.

  • If your time is limited, please consider volunteering anyway.  Many volunteers commit to handle a given number of requests per month and maintain a waiting list for requests over that.  Others plan on making just one library trip a month and do what they can during that visit.  Another possibility is to limit the geographic area covered to reduce the number of requests.
  • If you're volunteering for an area such as an entire state or a large city, you'll need to be prepared for a large number of requests. We always set up these listings as "Waiting List" so you'll have some flexibility in how many lookups you do each week or month. In addition, if you accumulate more than a month or two of requests, consider asking us to put your listing on sabbatical for a while so you can deal with the requests you already have. It's entirely up to you, but most volunteers prefer to take a break to catch up when they have too many requests.
  • If transportation costs are high, one way to keep the cost down is to make a trip to the library only when you have other errands in the area.  If that means a delay in doing lookups, that information can be added to your listing.  Another way is to make only one trip each month.

Making Arrangements to Volunteer

Once you are familiar with the resources available to you, all you need to do is the following:

    E-mail our Volunteer Coordinator with the following information:
    • Your name (only the first name and the last-name initial appear on the web page)
    • The e-mail address to be listed for you on the web page
    • Any Alternate Email Addresses where we can Reach you
    • The general location for which you are volunteering
      • If you are volunteering for the United States, specify the state and the county (parish in Louisiana, and sometimes an independent city in Virginia)
      • If you are volunteering for outside the United States, specify the country and the region (for example, the province in Canada)
    • The URL of your personal web page if you would like it to be listed on the web page.  Note that, to be listed, your web page may not contain any notice or advertising of genealogical services that are not free of charge, except for fees for copies and postage.
    • Any additional information on towns you will cover, newspapers available, libraries, indexes, etc.
    • If desired, the limit on the number of requests you will handle per week or month.

  1. Check your entry on the volunteer page for your state or country for accuracy after receiving notification that your name has been added (usually 48-72 hours). If your listing needs changing or correction, notify the Web Page Coordinator.

    You will also receive a notice that you have been subscribed to our administrative OBITUARY-LOOKUP-VOLUNTEERS mailing list, which allows our four volunteer coordinators (only) to send occasional messages to all our volunteers at one time. Note that this is a different list from the OBIT-LOOKUPS-L mailing list.

  2. Then just sit back and wait for any requests.  For more information on handling requests, see What an Obituary Lookup Volunteer Does.
  3. If you encounter problems, see Refusing Lookup Requests and FAQs and Problems for more information.
  4. Please notify the Web Page Coordinator when any of the following apply:

    • you are taking a vacation or time off (your e-mail link will be disabled and a vacation notice will be added to your listing).
    • your e-mail address will be changing.
    • you are no longer able to volunteer.
    • you would like to make other changes to your listing.

    Keeping the web site up to date makes it easier on everyone.  Our volunteer Web Page Coordinators make every effort to respond to your e-mail and apply changes within 48-72 hours, but occasionally we have a high volume of changes or e-mail doesn't reach us.  If you haven't had a reply and/or your change hasn't been applied to the web site after a week, please send your e-mail again.  Thank you!

Refusing Lookup Requests

The vast majority of those who request lookups understand what we're offering: simple lookups for the cost of copies and postage.  A simple lookup is one where sufficient information (correct name, complete date of death, accurate location) is given so that the volunteer can quickly determine if the obituary is available.

Occasionally, a person making a request expects full research services, but you are under no obligation to meet that expectation.  At any time you may refuse a lookup request with insufficient information, limit the number of requests for one person, or stop working on a series of lookups if it becomes obvious that the requester is just making guesses.  If the person you're helping does not agree with your decision, please don't hesitate to forward the e-mail to our Volunteer Coordinator who will follow up.

If you need to refuse a reasonable lookup request because you're receiving too many requests or because you need a break, please let our Volunteer Coordinator know so we can add a limit to your listing or put you on vacation.  That will make it easier on you and on those making requests.


To volunteer to do lookups in your area,
for questions about the mailing list,
for help with obit requests,
to report a broken link,
or for other comments or questions,
contact us.

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Last update 22 Sep 2010