Info in an Obituary


obit-ordway-1904The use of obituaries is essential when doing your family history. Most of the time the information was supplied by a close family member. You want to try every newspaper in the area of where your ancestor did live when they died as well as their hometown. Families generally placed an obituary in one or more locations where the decease was known or had lived for many years. So if you have one obituary and you know they lived or grew up in another town or state — search there.

Exam an obituary completely. Look about any information of school, military service, occupations or towns they lived in. That will offer additional sources to check.

Next make note in your family files of the ancestor of ALL the names of people listed who predeceased the ancestor and ALL the names and relationship of those who survived the relative. There could well be some surprises you overlooked.

With family members listed, that can help you fill in any gaps in missing branches to your family tree. For example, it may list a younger brother who died as a youngster whom you never knew about, it here is the name listed in the obituary. From there you can research about that person, your uncle.

OBIT-antone lawrence-1910As part of the research just using obituaries, one can provide several names and locations and then you look up those individuals and learn additional names. As you move back in time, obituaries do get harder to locate. However, the period between 1870s to 1990s are prime times when obituaries were done on just about every person and were lengthy in content. So with that long a period, you can collect a large number of obituaries. That is why you want as many obituaries from different locations as possible. True, the information was generally supplied by the same family member for all obituaries, but occasionally variations were made to fit a hometown person.

Another aspect found in obituaries will be the revealing of previously family relatives not ‘talked’ about in the family. For example, an elderly gentleman passed away and his adult children provide the information about all his children, including a wayward son (their brother), who had cut ties with his father years earlier. That is news to you decades later!

To locate obituaries, check newspaper offices in towns where the ancestor lived, ask what is on microfilm in local public libraries, check with local museum (some keep files of obituaries on their citizens), or subscript to one of the several online newspaper archives online.

obit-Israel seidersThere is a good deal to learn by carefully studying the information in obituaries.

Photos: Obituaries with a good of family information: Joseph Ordway in 1904, Antone Lawrence in 1910 and Israel Seiders in 1904.

Related genealogy blogs:

Where to Locate Obituaries

Locating Obituaries


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