"I'll sit & wait for someone smarter than I to explain the details."
And here I am, to save the day. (I'd have been here sooner, but I was collecting things in mass-quantities).
The Obituary Daily Times index is created by members of the eponymous organization. They index - in a very specific format - obituaries which appear in the newspapers they have chosen to "adopt". The index currently has 16,295,047 (sixteen MILLION) entries dating back to 1995. Members, and the publications included in the index have come and gone over the years, so coverage is random and incomplete for any date range or location. Other members of said group are entitled to request copies of full obituaries from the submitting member, within a short window of opportunity (most 30-90 days, some 1 or 2 years). This entitlement is not available to non-members.
Non-members can, however, make use of the indexed information to learn exactly when and where an obituary was published. The non-member is then "on their own" to determine the best way to obtain a copy of the obituary.
Let's take an example at random from the index:
ANDREW, Captola (CONNER); 90; Whitewright TX; ShermanHD; 2008-7-6; delpat
The deceased was Captola ANDREW, maiden name CONNER.
She was aged 90, and died in Whitewright, Texas
Her obituary was published in the Sherman Herald-Democrat on July 6, 2008.
The submitting member's username was delpat
ABBOTT, Margaret (SMITH)[WORTHINGTON]; 84; Providence RI>Jackson NH; Prov Journal (RI); 2001-11-21; wgroberge
The deceased was Margaret ABBOTT, maiden name SMITH, previous married name WORTHINGTON
She was aged 84, was born in Providence, Rhode Island and died in Jackson, New Hampshire
Her obituary was published in the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal on November 21, 2001
The submitting member's username was wgroberge
While there are many specifics for each segment of an index entry, a few of the general "rules" are:
*Surnames are in CAPS
*Nicknames are in "quotes"
*Maiden names are in (parentheses)
*Other surnames are in [brackets]
*The birth place is only listed if that state is different from the death state
*There many be more than one entry for the same person - either obituaries on multiple days in a single paper, or multiple papers, or combinations thereof
*Not all segments are always filled, if the originating obituary did not provide that information
*Errors can and do occur.
Full details of the structure of index entries can be studied in the Contributor Handbook:http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~obituary/handbook.html
Full names and locations of newspapers cited in the index can be gleaned from the Publication List:http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~obituary/publications.html
So your summation was mostly correct:
"It tells me basically nothing except somewhere potentially one of these papers has a copy of the obit, which may or may not be available on-line, or archived..."
Knowing when & where an obit was published is a goldmine if you've got nothing else to go on. If it pains you to have to obtain a copy of an obituary by some "old-fashioned" method, then this resource is not for you.