Maximizing Genealogical Value of Obituaries


Obituaries offer a wealth of information about your family. They have important facts about the deceased and important dates that you can use to piece together clues about the history of your family.

We all think differently and we all have different ways of processing information, which makes genealogy and ancestry research very confusing. Different historians and different family members keep records in different ways so sometimes finding the facts you need to piece together a family history are elusive.

There are thousands of databases out there claiming to have the answers, but in reality if you are disorganized, those databases are only going to make the confusion worse. And to top it off repetition in names, facts and even certain dates can cause further confusion. To clear up the confusion, here is the basic guideline of what to look for in an obituary and how to keep it all organized.

Searching for Clues in Obituaries

An Obituary is the final record of a person's life, information is included that can lead you to some amazing discoveries about your family. When you look at an obituary it is important that you pinpoint those bits of information and make a note of them. First read the obituary through once or twice just to get an idea of the information included. Then underline the important pieces of information. Read it over again to make sure you underlined everything of importance. Here are the things you will want to look for in an obituary:

  • The deceased's full name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place or City of Residence
  • Occupation
  • Military Service
  • Church Affiliation
  • Life events
  • Awards or Accomplishments
  • Names of survivors
  • Place where funeral or memorial service is held
  • Place of internment

Maximizing the Genealogical Value of Obituaries

Once you've read and reread the obituary and you've underlined the important pieces of information, the next step is to organize the information in a way you can access later and have a complete understanding of what it is you found important. You can download forms for free that can help you maximize genealogical value from obituaries at

The first thing to do is copy down the information point by point. Then make notes about each point.

Questions to ask yourself as you go through each point are:

  • What information does this clue provide?
  • What public or historical records exist that will provide further information?
  • Where can I find those records?

The notes you make about each point can be anything related to genealogy research:

  • Personal notes – maybe you were reminded about a conversation you had with a relative about this point.
  • Family history notes – maybe another ancestor was a member of the same organization.
  • Notes about what you'll want to research about this information – perhaps you want to look up how long this person was a member of this organization.
  • Where records that expand on this information might exist – make notes as to where you can find the answers to your questions.

Other notes might include tidbits of information from:

  • Phone book
  • City business directory
  • Internet
  • Church directory
  • School databases

Taking the time to go through obituaries carefully can go a long way to helping you find clues to your family history and connecting you to your ancestors and relatives. Names, places, and dates are just the starting point. There is so much to learn from obituaries, but you have to read between the lines. Not all the information will be there ready for you to see, you'll have to do a little digging and a little research. Making notes and keeping your notes organized will help you get the information you are looking for.

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