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Libraries will check out obituaries, too

DONNA MURRAY ALLEN
Published June 17, 2004

I recently enjoyed a banner week in terms of obtaining obituaries from out-of-state public libraries.

As usual, the staff at the public library in Hagerstown, Md., came through with flying colors. I had requested five obits. They found four. They enclosed a note saying that they had checked both local newspapers for the fifth, with no luck. I have obtained obits from this library many times, some dating back to 1894, others as recent as 1982. I limit my requeststo five at a time and always include at least a $1 donation for each.

Over in Cumberland, Md., the public library staff apologized for not being able to help me because the library is undergoing renovations. They gave me the e-mail address of a local researcher instead. Within two days, Ed Wagus had trekked to the University of Maryland library, duplicated the obits and mailed themto me.

The Steubenville, Ohio, public library staff found the two obitsI wanted, but wouldn't sendthem until I coughed up another $3. I had enclosed $2, the minimum fee is $5. It's still abargain.

These responses are typical of my experiences in 20 years of rooting. The majority of my requests have gone to small town libraries.

However, the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh accepts requests for up to five names at a time for $10. The New York City Public Library charges $75 an hour, but will break it down into 15-minute increments (www.nypl.org/express)

My reason for relating this bit of research trivia stems from a comment made by a new rooter who expressed surprise at learning that public libraries arethe best place to obtainobituaries either in person or by mail.

Actually, public libraries and university libraries are often the only places to get them since newspapers don't allow the public to troll through their collection of back issues. Typically, each issue of a daily newspaper is microfilmed and stored at the main branch of the public library in that locale.

The St. Petersburg Public Library at 3745 Ninth Ave. N, for example, has issues of the St. Petersburg Times dating back to 1901. You can look up obituaries on microfilm or request them by mail if you know the decedent's full name and death date. (The library also has copies of the Evening Independent). A $2 fee includes postage and one copy of the obituary. Additional copies are $1 a page.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library is the only library I've encountered that won't respond to obituary requests by mail, although there may be others. It does have an online index to obituaries published in the Tampa Tribune from 1900-1986 at www.thpl.org Click on Information Gateway, then genealogy, then TRAILS. Put the surname in the "quick search" box. A citation pops up. Getting a copy of the actual obit is a do-it-yourself project. You must go to the main library at 900 N Ashley St. in Tampa, locate the obit on microfilm and make a copy or hire a researcher to pull it for you.

Regardless of the library, you must have the name and death date of the deceased to request an obit. Many libraries will check newspapers up to five days beyond the death date. Some will attempt to find an obit even if you know only the month and year, but they charge accordingly.

Research fees are not refundable and must be paid in advance. Checks and money orders are always good. Some accept cash. Make sure to include your contact information with your request.

Almost every public library hosts a Web site with contact information. You can find the one you need by putting the most likely name - Pittsburgh Public Library, for example - in your search box.

Or call your local public library for the information.

-- Read past Donna Murray Allen columns online at www.sptimes.com Type "Donna Murray Allen" in the search box. You can write to Allen c/o Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at rootscolumn@yahoo.com Her Web site: www.rootsdetective.com includes information on classes and lectures. Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns.

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