Resolve to Locate Obituaries

ObitThere may be a project you have put off or never thought to start — that of finding all available obituaries for your ancestors. One of the main type of documents a family history researcher looks for is the newspaper obituary on an ancestor. It really only became a common practice to place an obituary on a deceased relative in the late 1800s in America, but what a wealth of information in each.

The late 1800s into the early 20th century was the Victorian and Edwardian eras when things were to be done in a proper formal way and many times to the extreme. This was especially true to have a newspaper write-up on the complete life of the dearly departed.

For present-day researchers, it is a gold mine of information not only on the ancestor who had just passed away when the obituary was written, but would also provide information on their parents, siblings, children, schooling, occupation, military service, membership in organizations and places they lived. The main item to remember is that the information in the obituary was usually supplied by a spouse, sibling or adult child and there can be mistakes or misinformation. Also a newspaper obituary might not have appeared in the paper for days or even weeks or months after the person’s death, so check many dates.

A great site which offers assistance from volunteers within the United States in obtaining copies of newspaper obituaries is by Rootsweb. The volunteers are listed first by state names and then broken down into counties within each state. The number of volunteers will vary from county to county. Another is OBITCentral.

Most counties have old newspapers at the public library and other locations in a county with newspaper access might be the historical and the genealogical societies. Many museums for a county, especially those which emphasis history, will also have copies of actual newspapers or on microfilm. Any local Family History Centers in an area will have information on local obituaries — a great resource to reach that goal of finding obituaries on your relatives.

Photo:  Obit from 1917 of John H. Meredith and his unusual death.

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