Look Beyond the Obit

obits-2A family history researcher may think all they need is the death date from an obituary, but there is so much more, especially with the style of detailed death notices that were done for decades in newspapers. An obituary not only can provide the ancestor’s full names, a maiden name for the ladies, a surviving spouse and any previous spouse’s name more than likely is there. Names of children, parents, siblings will be included as survivors as well as relatives who died before the ancestor’s death. Plus there might be a photo or illustration of the relative. What a gold mine just in names and their relationship to the ancestor is available.

Next locations, such as a hometown where the ancestor was born, where they lived or worked many times will be in an obituary. Their occupation and any civic organizations and clubs or political offices held will be mentioned. If not directly, look at any groups assisting or pallbearers at the funeral, it may be fellow members. Once you know an occupation or civic organizations, you can check in that hometown for any records those places might have. Certain jobs will have associations, such as dentists that your ancestor may have belonged to.

Note where the person was buried, most cemeteries keep records of the burials, family contacts and other important information. If a funeral home is listed, check and see if still open and they too keep records for a long time. It never hurts to check, you never know what is tucked away in a filing cabinet.

obits Once you know a death death, check the hometown’s local newspaper going back a week, two weeks or a month or more. If the person had been sick, those are always written up in the local papers. Check newspapers after the death, because probate notices are in the papers for a couple weeks. Here you could learn of additional property the ancestor owned. Also look before and after if the relative died due to someone’s hand — murder or by an accident. There will some news article about it with follow up articles. Those can be the most interesting.

Last look for obituaries in newspapers beyond the home town, neighboring towns or where the ancestor was born. There might the same information or addition, previously unknown names and dates.

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