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Updated November 26, 2019 – some newspapers still charge $79.99. Doing an updated post on November 27, 2019 – Funeral Home Obituary vs. Newspaper Obituary Update – November 27, 2019.
Updated November 21, 2019: the newspaper and funeral home obits were slightly different when I initially made this post with the funeral home obit being much shorter. However, when I checked November 21, 2019, the funeral home obit is now much longer and there are some differences between the two obits.
Before I start this post, be aware that many obits from pre-1964 are in the public domain. However, that doesn’t mean you can use a website screenshot to add an image to your blog or family tree. Digital images of obits generally fall under a different copyright time limit even if the obituary itself is in the public domain. In that case, you could type out the obit yourself and be fine whereas using the image could get you in trouble for copyright violation. Also, obits are covered under copyright in the U. S. There are websites who have no problem posting obits that are under copyright, but they may find themselves dealing with a copyright lawsuit if they aren’t careful.
My personal preference is to re-write the obit in my own style and words which creates a copyright for my version of the obit separate from the original obit. I leave out any flowery language from the obit. Plus, Find-A-Grave prohibits adding living people in obits. That doesn’t stop people from doing it. I always check to see if the living relatives are still living as a recent case where the wife and a son had died after the husband died. Facts can’t be copyrighted, but how they are presented can be. For example, if I put John Smith died August 29, 2075, that’s not copyrightable. However, if I went into great detail describing the outfit he was wearing, how he tarried for weeks before passing, etc., then that is copyright protected.
If you haven’t paid for an obit lately, newspaper obits have skyrocketed in price. It’s one reason funeral home obits are often longer. The downside to funeral home obits is they frequently disappear fast, anywhere from a few weeks, a couple of months, 1 – 2 years. A few stay up permanently, but those are the exception and not the rule. Some funeral homes or Legacy allow you to permanently sponsor an obit.
It used to be Some still are $79.95 with a reduced cost for 24 hour access or 1 year access. It is now down to Others are only $38.00 for permanent sponsorship and $2.95 for 24 access. See my note below about the newspaper archive websites as they often include permanent access as long as you have a paid subscription.
Dwight, my brother-in-law, has an obituary on the funeral home website and one that will appear in today’s local newspaper. What’s surprising is the shortness of the funeral home obit compared to the longer newspaper obit. In many cases, it’s the same obit both places. In a fair number of cases, the funeral home obit is much longer. As of early this afternoon, he had not been added to Find-A-Grave by anyone. However, once the newspaper obit goes live some time after midnight this morning, I won’t be surprised if that changes.
With newspaper obits, they tend to be up for a year online for free. My hometown newspaper has a deal with one or more of the newspaper archive sites – GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, Newspaper Archive. I haven’t looked lately to see which deals are still active with my hometown newspaper. If you have a paid subscription, the obits would be available as long as your subscription is active. Newspapers.com has two subscription levels – Basic and Premium. Basic is more limited in what newspapers are available and the time frame covered.
The above newspaper archive sites don’t cover all the newspapers that have been printed. There are a number of other free and paid sites that add more newspapers, but there are wide gaps in coverage even if you signed up for every free and paid website out there.
One of the more popular free ones is Chronicling America – https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/. I need to update this old post from 2014 as some things have changed and new free sites may now be available – Several Free Newspaper Websites February 3, 2014.