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Buffalo Roots: Genealogy & Local History in Buffalo, NY
Death Notices & Obituaries
in Buffalo, NY Newspapers

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  Introduction

  Table of Contents


  Quick Guide to Major Obituary Sources

 
Date of death
Source
Format
Death Notices or Obituaries
Aren't these
the same thing?
Full Text or Citation
What's the difference?
Cost
1811-1880 Erie County, New York obituaries as found in the files of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society In book form only, not online.
Owned by BECPL and BECHS
Possibly both Citation only $30-$40, probably available through interlibrary loan.
Late 19th c. to 1982, most from after the 1920s Local History File Large card file in BECPL, not online Mostly obituaries for prominent citizens, few death notices Citation only Free for in-person users
1962-present Social Security Death Index Online database Dates of death for over 60 million Americans from all 50 states Does not give maiden names, middle names, or next of kin Free
1989 to present Buffalo News commercial website Online database Obituaries only Full text of local news articles, including obituaries but not death notices Free to search; small charge  to retrieve full text
1989 or 1992 to present Buffalo News subscription database Online database at BECPL and UB, in-person use only Obituaries only Full text of local news articles, including obituaries but not death notices Free for in-person lookups; small charge to print
Sept. 11, 1997 to present Buffalo News website Online database Death notices only Full Text Free for three months, then there is a small charge to retrieve full text death notices
Last two weeks Buffalo News website Online database Obituaries only Full text Free for two weeks, then there is a small charge to retrieve full text obituaries

  Frequently Asked Questions About Obituary Research

Aren't obituaries and death notices the same thing? No, there is a distinction. A death notice contains factual information about the deceased: name, date of death, surviving kin, and place of burial. It is a classified ad paid for by the family. An obituary contains narrative, biographical data about the deceased, who was someone of some kind of prominence. Obituaries are news article written by a staff writer. Today, a typical issue of the Buffalo News contains about a dozen obituaries and 50-100 death notices. Obituaries go into their fee-based archives; death notices are searchable for free at their website.
What do full text and citation mean? Full text means that every word in the original obituary or death notice has been reproduced. Citation means that you are given only the name of the newspaper, the date, and the page number where the obituary or death notice can be found.
I don't know the exact day (month, day, year) but I think the person I'm researching died after 1962. If the person died after 1962, he or she might be found in the U.S. Social Security Death Index. Search it for free at: http://ssdi.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi .
I don't know the exact date but I know it was before 1962. In this case, try getting a copy of the death certificate.  See: Vital Records.
Who has every newspaper published in Erie County? BECPL and BECHS have the most comprehensive collections of Buffalo newspapers. However, many papers from the towns and villages of Erie County are found only in the appropriate town library.  A list of town libraries can be seen at:  Libraries of Buffalo & Erie County.
What's the oldest newspaper in Buffalo? The first newspaper in Buffalo, the Buffalo Gazette, began publishing in 1811. It is owned by BECHS. BECPL owns some early Buffalo newspapers but they are not microfilmed, tend to be too fragile to photocopy, and may be seen by appointment only in: Rare Book Room (716-858-7118).
How hard it is to find obituaries and death notices in the paper? By the 1930s, newspapers usually have a table on contents on the first page telling you where the death notices and obituaries will be found. In pre-1930 newspapers, death notices and obituaries are usually found on the first or second page or the last or second-last page.
What about older newspapers? Newspapers from before 1900 often have microscopic print and are hard to read. It can be hard on the eyes to search for a death notice or obituary in 19th century newspapers. If you are successful, the death notice might say only "John Smith died Tuesday at his home" and who the pallbearers, not next of kin, were. Nineteenth century death notices are rarely as informative as modern ones.

See How to Read a 19th Century Newspaper. It uses examples from Virginia but the analysis probably applies to Buffalo papers.

Are the newspapers listed below  the only newspaper microfilms in town? No.  To see a comprehensive list of microfilmed newspapers from Erie County and the local libraries that have them, visit the New York State Newspaper Project's list of Erie County Newspapers on Microfilm at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/nysnp/215.htm.
What if I live too far away to come to Buffalo to look up my own obituaries? If you know the exact date of death (month, day, year), contact:
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. The staff can read 5 days worth of newspapers and if a death notice/obit is found, they'll send a photocopy with a bill, usually around $5.00 for out-of-state residents; less for residents of NY state. For best results, don't ask for more than three obits at a time.

Other options:
1.  Try to get a copy of the death certificate.
It will reveal the exact date of death.
2.  Hire a researcher.
3.  Contact a volunteer.
This pages lists volunteer obituary researchers for NY State. Be sure to read the instructions in full before firing off a request.
4.  Use interlibrary loan.
The New York State Library lends out every film listed at http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/nysnp/115.htm.

However, you must contact your local librarian to place all interlibrary loan requests.

Will I find death notices for all of my Buffalo-area ancestors? There is NEVER a guarantee that a death in the Buffalo area was recorded in local newspapers by an obituary or death notice.  No law requires that a death notice be published. Death notices were especially uncommon for  women, children, and poor people in the 19th century.
What else is online? Lots of links for Buffalo-area churches, cemeteries, land records, vital records, and much more can be seen at: http://www.bfn.org/~roots/local.htm.

  Minor Death & Obituary Links for Erie County

By "minor," I mean a site with only a handful to a few hundred names.


  Buffalo's Major Daily Newspapers

If you need an obituary from the pre-computer era, this is a guide to the major Buffalo newspapers, which are all available on microfilm.

*  Buffalo Daily Courier, 1842-1926 *  Buffalo Enquirer, 1891-1924
*  Buffalo Morning Express, 1846-1926 *  Buffalo Evening Post, 1852-1925
*  Buffalo Courier-Express, 1926-1982 *  Buffalo Sunday News, 1894-1915
*  Buffalo (Evening) News, 1881 to present *  Buffalo Tribune/Freie Press, 1886-1914
*  Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 1844-1924 *  Buffalo Volksfreund, 1891-1969
*  Buffalo Times, 1883-1939 *  Dziennik dla Wszystkich, 1930-1957

*  Click here for a comprehensive list of Erie County newspapers

Ownership Key
BECHS = Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society
BECPL = Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
BSC = Buffalo State College Butler Library
UB = University at Buffalo Arts & Sciences Libraries

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*  Buffalo Daily Courier, microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1842-1926

1842-1880:

Mostly a business and commercial newspaper, filled with advertisements. There are 1-3 obituaries and death notices per issue, usually found on pages 2 and 3. No table of contents.

1880-1885:

There are 4-5 obituaries and death notices per issue, usually found on pages 2 and 4. The death notices start to name surviving kin and ancestry. Obituaries include more biographical information.

1885-1890:

Daily issues now average 8 pages, with 8-10 obituaries and death notices per day. See Saturday issues for announcements of births, marriages, and deaths.
1890-1920:
Paper expands to 10-14 pages per day and the Sunday issue averages 40 pages. There are 10-15 death notices and obituaries per issue but they are scattered, usually found on page 1 or 2.
1920-1926
Paper expands to 14-16 pages per day. Death notices and obituaries are usuallly found on or near the last page.

In 1926, the Buffalo Daily Courier merged with the Buffalo Morning Express to form the Buffalo Courier-Express.

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*  Buffalo Morning Express, microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1846-1926

1846-1880:

Issues average 4 pages, with no index or list for the deceased. Death notices are few and are usually found on the bottom right corner of page 2 or the last page. Obituaries are rare.
1880-1900:
Daily issues expand to 8-12 pages. Death notices are usually found on the last page, near the bottom. Obituaries can be scattered anywhere in the paper.
1900-1926:
Death notices are usually found towards the end or on the last page.

In 1926, the Buffalo Morning Express merged with the Buffalo Daily Courier to form the Buffalo Courier-Express.

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*  Buffalo Courier-Express, microfilm available at microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1926-1982

The newspaper, a merger of the Buffalo Morning Express and the Buffalo Daily Courier, expands significantly. See the table of contents on the bottom of the first page for a list of the recently deceased and where their death notices are located. Obituaries are scattered throughout the paper, but often found near the death notices.

The Courier-Express folded in 1982.  Its archives are now held by Butler Library in Buffalo State College.  A description of the collection is online at: http://www.buffalostate.edu/~archives/courier.htm.

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*  Buffalo (Evening) News, microfilm available at BECHS, BECPL, BSC, and UB: 1881 to present

1881-1920:

Daily issues are about 4 pages long. By the 1920s, it grew to about 16 pages. There are 10-15 brief death notices per issue, usually found on page 1-2. Obituaries are usually found on page 1.
1920-1930:
Death notices are found at the end of the paper. Obituaries can be at the beginning or end. Sometimes vital statistics appear near the end.
1930-present:
See the table of contents on the bottom of the first page for a list of the recently deceased and where their death notices are located. Most obituaries are found near the death notices. Vital statistics sometimes appear near the death notices.
1962-1976:
The Western New York Genealogy Society has death notices from the Buffalo News for these years on 6 rolls of microfilm, shelved in SPC.
1982:
The Buffalo Evening News shortens its name to the Buffalo News.
1989 to present:
The website of the Buffalo News has searchable archives back to 1989, including obituaries but not death notices. Enter names with first name first and last name last, like John Smith instead of Smith, John. The fee to retrieve the full text is $1.95 per article.
1992 to present:
In-person visitors to any Buffalo and Erie County Public Library branch or town library can search the Buffalo News full-text database, which contains obituaries but not death notices. Due to licensing restrictions, remote access is not permitted.
1997 to present:
The Buffalo News has death notices online in full text from 11 September 1997. There is a small charge to get the full death notice.

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*  Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, microfilm available in microfilm available at BECHS: 1839-1924 and BECPL: 1844-1924

1844-1885:

Daily issues average 4 pages. There are 1-5 death notices per issue, usually found on the bottom right corner of page 2.
1885-1924:
Daily issues expand to 8 pages, and by 1924, to 16 pages. There are 5-10 death notices per issue, usually found on the last or second-last page near the bottom. Obituaries are uncommon.

The Commercial Advertiser folded in 1924.

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*  Buffalo Times, microfilm available at: microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1883-1939

1883-1895:

Daily issues average 8-12 pages. Death notices are usually found on the last page. Obituaries are uncommon.
1895-1920:
Death notices are usually found on page 1 in the bottom right corner.
1920-1939:
The weekday issues expand to 24 pages and the Sunday Times averages 50 pages. Death notices are usually found on page 1. Vital statistics might be found in the middle of the paper.

The Buffalo Times folded in 1939.

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*  Buffalo Enquirer, microfilm available at: microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1891-1924

From 1891 to around 1905, death notices are usually found on page 1. Starting around 1905, death notices are usually found on the last or second last page.

The Buffalo Enquirer folded in 1924.

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*  Buffalo Evening Post, microfilm available at: microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1852-1925

Almost no death notices, occasional obituaries.

The Buffalo Evening Post folded in 1925.

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*  Buffalo Sunday News, microfilm available in SPC: 1894-1915

Published on Sundays only. Death notices and obituaries can be found anywhere in the paper.

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*  Buffalo Tribune--Freie Presse, microfilm available at microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1886-1914

In German. Few death notices or obituaries. In the 1890s, vital statistics are found in the local news section in a column headed Die Wiege, Der Altar, und Das Grab ("Births, Marriages, and Deaths").

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*  Buffalo Volksfreund, microfilm available at: microfilm available at BECHS and BECPL: 1891-1969

In German. Death notices and obituaries are scattered throught the paper. Watch for Die Todeschiene ("List of Death Certificates Issued") or Todesanzeige ("Obituaries").

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*  Dziennik dla Wszystkich, microfilm available at microfilm available at BECHS: 1911-1957 and BECPL: 1930-1957

In Polish.  Death notices are being indexed by volunteers of the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State.  A description of the project is online at:  http://pgsnys.org/Dziennik/.

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Many thanks to Steve S. for his contributions to this page
 24 August 2004
Copyright © 2000-2004 by Cynthia Van Ness

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