Online Obituary Index

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Brighton District Library
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The Brighton District Library connects individuals to the world's cultural and Information resources.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Microsoft products contribute to the success of the Brighton District Library in nearly every area of our services. The Office software that we make available at our public computer workstations allow our customers to create resumes, business plans, sports team rosters, and class presentations. Library staff uses Excel spreadsheets to track how our services and collections are used, and to inform our decisions on how best to use our resources for our customers. We promote our programs with flyers created with Publisher and animated PowerPoint slides make our public video kiosk exciting. The Library builds training programs specifically around Microsoft products, as we offer free classes in the use of the Windows operating system and Office software. Of the hundreds of ways the Brighton District Library uses Microsoft technology to optimize our mission – to connect individuals to the world’s cultural and information resources – one of the most direct and successful is our Online Obituary Index. The Library preserves, on microfilm, issues of our local newspaper dating back to its establishment in 1880. Though it is a valuable and heavily used resource, access to this archive is made difficult by the fact that no index exists for this relatively small regional paper. The labor entailed to find any particular piece of information preserved by the microfilm record was the impetus for the Library to launch a project to make it easier to access the most frequently sought type of article: obituaries. Obituaries are prized by genealogists, since these articles will frequently list names of relatives, occupations, employers, and places of residence for a person that may not be found anywhere else and can be the basis for much further research. The project began in the late 1990s, with staff and community volunteers indexing every obituary as it appeared in each new issue of the newspaper, and methodically working back through the older issues. In 2002, the work in progress was put online. By 2006, the Library’s entire holdings had been indexed, and the Index’s currency has been maintained ever since. The Index is based on a Microsoft Access database with fields for the deceased’s name, the names of his or her spouse and parents, the date of death, and the date of the newspaper obituary. The database is searchable on any of these fields online using a cgi script, and results are displayed in chronological order. The Online Obituary Index today contains 24,418 records, and can be found at It is always among the top 10 most frequently accessed pages on our website, averaging 721 hits each month in 2009. It handles a volume of queries that our reference staff could never effectively attend to. The increase in the quality of our service to genealogists is obvious: customers and staff can know in seconds what formerly would take many minutes or hours of searching to find an obituary or confirm that one does not exist. An obituary can be found on the basis of a family relationship that would never have been feasible to search for before. The reach of the service has grown as well. From the subsequent requests to the Library for the actual articles, we know that it has been accessed from all over the United States, from Canada, and the UK. Now the Library is assembling the resources to make the obituaries themselves available via our Index. Genealogists are only some of the people served by the Index. Last year a young man called our reference desk from Iowa. He had grown up in Brighton and had only recently learned of the death of an old acquaintance. He wondered if we could locate an obituary for him. Having only a very approximate idea of when the person had died, without the Online Obituary Index it would have taken a lucky chance or a tremendous amount of scrolling through microfilm to locate that article. As it happened, we found, scanned, and emailed the obituary to him within minutes. That ability to maintain community ties over distance is one of the finest uses to which we can put our technology.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery