The Los Angeles city newspapers generally only publish obituaries for well-known citizens. Death notices—which are paid announcements—appear more frequently. These vary in length, but many only give the name of the decedent and the name of a mortuary.
There is no comprehensive index to obituaries and death notices for the newspapers in Los Angeles. This means you have to either look through the newspapers page by page near the date of death (usually on microfilm), or search using keywords in a digitized format of the newspaper.
The Southern California Genealogical Society has an online index to obituaries found in the Los Angeles Times, but it is not complete.
We have a subscription to the digitized Los Angeles Times Historical Database (1881-1994). We also provide access to the digitized newspaper databases Access Newspaper Archives and the Los Angeles Sentinel Historical Archive (1934-2005). You may access all three of these databases from home with your library card on our Research & Homework page.
You will need a valid library card to access our subscription to the Los Angeles Times at no cost. Access is also available online at latimes.newspapers.com. Searching for abstracts/citations is free, but to obtain the full-text articles you must pay a fee. Or give us the precise citation information you find, and we can scan and email the article to you for $5 per request and 25-cents-a-page.
If you don’t find the obituary in the above-mentioned databases, you could come to Central Library to pore over our other microfilmed newspapers. This guide (PDF) can help you find out what newspapers were published in Los Angeles for each decade. These newspapers are also not indexed, so it will help you immensely if you know the place and date of death. This information can be obtained from a death index or death certificate.
Two state-level California Death Indexes can be found at Ancestry.com (a database anyone can access from any library branch and Central Library) or FamilySearch.org (a free internet database).
- California, Death Index, 1905-1939 provides the digitized index page, plus its transcription. On the digitized page, you can often find the name of the decedent, initials of his/her spouse, age at death, a number representing county or city of death (“19” for Los Angeles county; “70” for Los Angeles city), date of death and STATE-level index number.
- California, Death Index, 1940-1997 only provides a transcription of the index page. From this transcription, you can often find name, Social Security number, gender, birth date and place, death date and place, mother’s maiden name, and you can order a copy of the death certificate online. This index only provides the county of death, unless the death occurred in the cities of Alameda, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
Some indexing for deaths prior to 1905 can be found at the Pre-1905 CA Death Index Project.
To obtain an actual death certificate (and not just the index) for persons dying in Los Angeles County after July 1, 1905, contact the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, 12400 E. Imperial Hwy, Norwalk, CA 90650.
For persons dying between 1940-1997, you can order a copy of the death certificate via Ancestry.com for a fee. Just go to the Ancestry.com database California, Death Index, 1940-1997 and find your person by using keywords (name). Then click “Order Original Document from VitalChek.”
Some digitized death certificates are now available online via FamilySearch.org. From the FamilySearch.org home page, click:
- Search >
- Browse All Published Collections >
- United States of America >
- California >
- California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994 >
- Try typing your person’s name in the search blanks, but not everyone in this database has yet been indexed. If the death certificate does not come up for your person, ignore the search blanks and scroll to the bottom of the page; click “Browse through ____ images.”
- Choose county or city (“Los Angeles” for L.A. County; “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” for the City of L.A.)
- Scroll to the bottom of this big list of birth and death certificates to find the INDEX for your time frame and click on it.
- Find your person alphabetically, and then note his/her index number.
- Click back to get to the main list of all the birth and death certificates and choose the year and index range amongst the death certificate records for your person, and click. You will be able to find your person by the INDEX NUMBER.
The index number you find in the state-level California Death Index will not correspond with these death certificates because they are county-level; you need to use the index number found in this data set.
Obituaries, as opposed to death notices, are found more frequently in the suburban community newspapers. There are 88 cities in Los Angeles County. Many of these communities have their own newspapers, and backfiles of those papers can often be found at the public libraries in those communities (go to google.com and type [city name] public library). The database Access Newspaper Archives contains many of these smaller papers in digital format. For instance, many of the newspapers from Van Nuys are here from 1900-1977.
Obituaries for Los Angeles residents who were born and raised in other parts of the United States, particularly in small and medium sized communities, are often found in their hometown newspapers. Use this newspaper directory from the Library of Congress to find lists of newspapers published in certain locations during certain times.
The Glendale Public Library does local obituary searches for a fee.
The Los Angeles County Library does three free obituary searches per month per patron. The person whose obituary is sought needs to have died within Los Angeles County. Please have as much information about the death as possible (date, place, name, etc.) and call your local County library or contact them via their website.
The Los Angeles Public Library is unable to do obituary searches for you. However, the library can provide a Directory of Genealogists who are willing to do research for a fee. Please call 213-228-7000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for this list.