Getting an obituary - no, you are not too far away!
Getting an obituary - no, you are not too far away!

Getting an obituary - no, you are not too far away!

Searchers who no longer live in Pennsylvania moan all the time "I'm so far away, I can't do this!" Well smile and wipe those tears, because you can. Almost anything you need to do can be accomplished by email, regular mail, or phone, so don't give up.

Sometimes you know a family name and general area, but don't know what to do with that. Well, think...

If you know your family name and that they are from a given area, why not find deceased ones and go read the obituary? That's where you'll find out who survived the deceased, and the person you seek may be listed among them. At least you'll know potential family members and where they are located (or were living at the time of family member's death). If the person you seek has married and you have a first name, then you may learn her married (and possibly current) name from the obit.

Here's how. Go use the Social Security Death Index that lists most (but not all) Americans who are now dead who had a SS card and for whom a death benefit was paid. There's one here.

Play with it... There's a few ways to search that may give you different results.

Example - if you have the name Kingsley and know they were from Reynoldsdale, you could look up:

"Kingsley" (Surname) who died in "Reynoldsdale PA" (Advanced Option #1--Last Known Residence, CITY, also type in STATE)

"Kingsley" (Surname) who died in "Bedford County" (Advanced Option #1--Last Known Residence, COUNTY, type in Bedford, also type in STATE, PA)

"Kingsley" (Surname) who got their SS number issued anywhere but died in PA ("Issued by" -leave default to "any state" but set "Advanced Options" STATE)

"Kingsley" (Surname) who died anywhere but whose SS number was issued in PA ("Issued by" - set to PA, "Advanced Options" set to default of "Any State")

It probably easier if you think it through rather than struggle with the directions. You're looking for

People with that name who died in that town
People with that name who died in that county
People with that name who died in that state
People with that name who died anywhere but got their SS number issued in that state

Ok, so you do that and get some listings. Here's what one might look like:

AGNES KINGSLEY SSN 178-35-0642 Residence: 17047 Loysville, Perry, PA Born 21 Jan 1897 Last Benefit: 11769 Oakdale, Suffolk, NY Died Jul 1977 Issued: PA (1957 And 1959)

This means Agnes lived in zip code 19047 in Loysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania. You can see clearly when she was born and died. The death benefit check was sent to Oakdale in Suffolk County New York, probably because that's where her next of kin (or other family who got the check) lived. She got her Social Security card between 1957 and 1959 in Pennsylvania.

Here's one that you could get that would be less helpful:

ALICE KINGSLEY SSN 211-50-0122 Residence: Born 27 May 1901 Last Benefit: Died 15 Oct 1993 Issued: PA (1956 And 1957)

This means we'd have a harder time finding Alice. We have her dates of birth and death, and know she got her SS card in PA, but we have no clue where her death benefit check went to or where her last residence was, not even a zip code. We're hoping you don't get any of these with next to no info.

So, okay, you make yourself a list of all the possible ones from the SSDI. Then what?

Look at last residence- that's probably where the obituary got published (if it did, and most did). Now you want to find out the newspaper that published it, and where old newspapers (or microfishe of old papers) are kept.

They're usually at one (or more) of 3 places:

The newspaper that printed them (if still in business) The local library The local or county historical society

You may be able to find who has it most quickly by directly calling the library. If you don't know the library for the area try this link. The library is a good place to call first because they will probably already know the name of the newspaper a death in the area would have been published in, and they are likely to know if they have it, and if not, if another branch has it, or if not, who in town does have it.

If you really can't go see it yourself, or cannot ask a list member to help you get it, then you need to explain to the reference librarian how you are way out of town, and ask how you may get a copy of the obit sent to you- offer to send reimbursement for copying and mailing or ask what their research fees are, if any. They are usually not prohibitive. If for some odd reason they won't do this, then ask if an inter-library loan might be arranged, where the stuff (usually microfishe) is sent to your local library for you to go peruse there. Last shot might be to hire an inexpensive reseacher to help you get it. There are 3 links to paid PA legwork on this page. There won't be a paid genealogist in every part of the state, but surely in many.

Pennsylvania Adoption Search and Education Links


PAFind EMAIL LIST - a FREE e-mail list of PA searchers helping one another.

STATE REGISTRIES AND POLITICS - Why neither are helping PA searchers much.

RELINQUISHMENT PAPERS - Like to see an example of PA relinquishment papers?

YOUR OLD AGENCY - Backtrack here for possible help in search.

COUNTY OF FINALIZATION - Some county specific info. You need to find this out and it may not be where you think.

FORMAL PETITION - Learn how some counties make it a bit harder.

NON-ID - Learn what it is, and how to ask for it.


PA ADOPTION LAW - the easy version or the actual wording.

ADOPTION GROUPS - known in PA that handle search, support, legisilation or all three.

SEARCH BASICS - In addition to this whole menu, here's a list of ways to search and try to be found.

PHONE CALL AND LETTER IDEAS - When you are close to making that respectful first contact.

SEARCH SUCKS! I NEED A *@$#! BREAK! - Take one, pal.

HIRING A SEARCHER OR PI? - Caveat emptor! Read some parameters and cautions.

THE UNIFORM ADOPTION ACT or UAA - Learn more about "The Evil Act". Coming to PA or your state?

CITY PAPER - Coverage of adoption search, law and the UAA in PA.

PERSONAL ESSAY - on adoption with info for all sides of the triad.

REGISTRIES AND GENERAL (NON-PA) ADOPTION STUFF - links to varied good places.

Read about PA's new potential adoption law and write to your legislators!

© 1997-present. Click for disclaimer and additional copyright information.


The UAA (Uniform Adoption Act) was a proposed law in PA which would have made it CRIMINAL for you to search for your biological family (A FELONY!) and make it criminal for anyone to help you. Additionally, it would have allowed a relinquishing birthmother a whopping eight days post-birth to change her mind. It was sponsored by Ed Krebs (Lebanon County) and was identified as House Bill 654. Thank heavens, it's dead now in PA! Still, read up on it here. Some of the new proposed law Senate Bill 859 though mostly good, has some elements of the UAA in it. This bill needs amendment and legislators are seeking our input now!


The irony of adoptions that entail closed records is that they generally begin and end with love- the love to endure and relinquish, and the love to raise and nuture. But in between? If you're an adoptee refused the right to see your own records, you're apt to feel a bit like a traded, uh...

Well, the mule's done growed up and learned how to read. Be real nice if the state took that into account.

People wanting to check out an adoption decree (who are probably scared they will hurt their adoptive parents if they ask for their own) have numbered . Come on, you're an adult now. They should know you're not going to run away and blow them off. And you should have this paperwork since it is yours. Love doesn't answer all life's fundamental questions. It's okay to ask. Do it.
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