A History of the Louisiana Biography and Obituary Index
The Obituary File was begun in the 1930s by Works Progress Administration staff working in the City Archives Department, then located in City Hall (now Gallier Hall) and its adjacent annex on St. Charles Avenue. The City Archives contained, in addition to the manuscript journals and ledgers of city government dating from 1769, the largest collection of bound New Orleans newspapers in existence. From this newspaper archive, the Obituary Index was created as one of several W.P.A. indexing projects conducted in that department (including the Louisiana News Index, another massive card file, this one providing name/subject access to news articles in New Orleans newspapers, exclusive of obituaries). The indexes were kept up by the City Archives Department staff after the W.P.A. project closed down.

In 1946, the City Archives Department was transferred by ordinance to the New Orleans Public Library, and in December of 1947 the newspaper files and the W.P.A. indexes were moved to the old Main Library on Lee Circle. As Library staff members began to examine the Obituary Index cards, they discovered the file's existing inadequacies. It included references only to deaths of prominent citizens, and it usually omitted editorials or feature stories relating to deaths (instead, such articles were filed in the Louisiana News Index under such unhelpful topics as "people.") The Obituary File was also divided into three sections: 1804-1936, 1936-1945 and "current," the last category covering the portion of 1946 that had been completed at the time of the index's transfer to the Library. To remedy these deficiencies, Library staff initiated a project, beginning with the year 1946 and extending forward, to index all obituaries. They also began to re-index retrospective time periods, beginning with the Civil War era, in order to fill in incomplete coverage.

Due to staffing limitations, work on the Louisiana News Index shut down permanently in the 1960's; coverage stops at the end of 1963. Staff work on the Obituary File continued, but in the early 1970's volunteers were recruited to take over the project. The decision was made to stop ongoing coverage of obituaries at the end of 1972, when printouts of indexes to statewide death certificates began (temporarily, it turned out) to be made available. The volunteers began to concentrate on filling in the gaps in the index that the library staff had never had the time to complete. This volunteer efforts brought full coverage back to 1858 before the project was put on hold for a number of years. In 1998, the project was revitalized, and a massive effort was made by several volunteers to fill in coverage of obituaries in the Daily Picayune back to its beginning in 1837.

When this part of the project was completed, it could finally be said that the Obituary File had complete coverage from 1837-1972. While only the Daily/Times-Picayune is fully indexed, the index also includes references from the old New Orleans States and the New Orleans Item during the post-World War II years, from all New Orleans dailies during the Civil War era, and from a number of other newspapers, such as the Louisiana Gazette and the German language Tagliche Deutsche Zeitung.

The index also includes references to biographies of Louisianians appearing in selected collective biographies published before 1960. Thus, the index eventually came to be designated the Louisiana Biography & Obituary Index.

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