Using Obituaries For Genealogy Research
Among the most invaluable tools available to anyone attempting to perform genealogical research is an obituary. These seemingly simple records contain a surprising amount of information all packed within a very small amount of words; including facts about many aspects of the person's life and passing. Often, the data found within that paragraph cannot be seen in writing anywhere else. Though there are no two alike, many of the same kinds of facts can be drawn from almost every one of them.
An obituary is, after all, an announcement of someone's having died, with a noting of the close family members, as well as facts about the individual's life, how the passing occurred, the name of the funeral home, where a service will be held, and even where the burial may take place. All of these details have striking value to the genealogist, both helping in a direct way and showing resources where further investigations may occur (at the cemetery or mortuary, for example).
With the death notice available, the first step is to break it down into every smaller mention, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Then, with all of those facts laid out, you can head to a local genealogy society, library, or archives to expand on what has been found. Though it is best to be able to go to these locations in person, it is often possible to have a staff member or volunteer perform the research on your behalf for a small fee, should it not be possible for you to go yourself.
Don't forget to note the following points that can each be drawn from the typical obituary that has been printed on a funeral program or published in a newspaper:
- The city, town, or county, and the state in which the person died.
- The last name of the decedent – which may be linked to public records (birth, marriage, military, etc.) or other informative online databases from that area and time.
- The names of relatives, which may also appear in the aforementioned resources or even the census reports of the time (or close to that period).
- The cemetery name, as you may be able to visit and discover other family members buried nearby or listed in the registers there.
- The name of a church where the funeral is held, as there may also be other information stored there in case other life events for that person took place there (baptism, christening, wedding, etc).