Someone Else Wrote the Obituary

You might believe that everything that appears in an obituary is 100% accurate. Just because it was printed in a newspaper does not mean it was true. Even our venerated ancestors were not above embellishing the facts to make a family lineage sound more illustrious, and sometimes they simply did not have the information necessary to build a detailed obituary for someone. So what you find you MUST fact-check the information in it.

First, you have to find an obituary. Yes, check using the deceased ancestor’s name and where they last lived. However, many times an obituary was also placed in a person hometown they grew up in.

If you know the names of an ancestor’s spouse or children, or even their siblings or parents, try searching for those names also. Those names might have been included in the obituary as survivors or as people who pre-deceased the individual in question. The names will show up in an online database search even if they are merely included in an obituary, and not the subject of one, and this will allow you to find the obituary of your ancestor. Just be sure you get the date range and location correct when searching this way.

Also, when looking check different ways with the given names, including the person’s initials was a common practice. Some people only went by a middle name or even a nickname. Try different ways including different spellings for a surname.

Then married ladies for years rarely used their given names but rather were referred to as ‘the wife of Mr. William Jones’ even for their own obituary.

Checking the facts in an obituary included incorrect family legends. An obituary, again written by someone else in the family, may state the deceased was a descendant of a famous person, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Johnson, or Thomas Edison. That could have been a long-standing family legend and never proven. This is where you do the research and prove or disprove the legend.

Compare the information in an obituary with other sources such as family Bibles, birth and marriage records. Compare to what was written in the different census records over the decades. Was there a Will left by the deceased, here they could have written actual details of age, birth and other family members.

Of course, if you locate a vintage obituary in a newspaper with a photo you have a treasure for sure.

Contact the ancestor’s hometown and see if anything was written there and kept in the county’s museum or historical or genealogical societies.

More recent times, an obituary is placed online with a funeral home site and not printed in the newspaper. So check with the hometown funeral homes.

Check and check again, never expect to find all obituaries with all 100% correct information.

Photos: Vintage obituaries for a wife in 1906, an obituary with a photo in 1915 and one with an unusual family story in 1901.

Related Blogs:

Look Beyond the Obituary

Female Ancestor’s Obituaries

OBITCITY – Database

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