How Genealogists Use Obituaries to Search Online Ancestors?


One of the first things genealogists or anyone searching for their ancestry should do is find clues in obituaries. Obituaries are hidden gems of information about people. They are the final report on the life of an individual and contain details about that person's life that may not appear anywhere else. Each obituary is different, but the basic research plan outlined below can work for all of them.

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a notice that announces the death of someone with a description of the person's life and list of family members. An obituary is a valuable tool for genealogists and family tree researchers because it contains clues about the deceased and the deceased's family. The obituary is often written by the funeral home or mortuary, but many people choose to write an obituary for their loved one that is published in the newspaper and included in the funeral program.

Sample Obituary for Research

A research plan for obituaries starts with an obituary. It is a little easier to start a research plan when you are related to the person in the obituary, but if you were researching someone who is not your relation, the steps would be the same.

The first step is to find the obituary. Here is a sample obituary that we can use to formulate a research plan.

Death of Jack Porter

During the past 6 weeks the farmer Jack Porter has been confined to his home, 1 mile east of Pocatello by illness. This morning at 10:30 he died, leaving a widow and one son and two step children. The deceased was a brother to Darrel Porter. He was 57 years of age. The funeral will be held on Tuesday at First Congregational Church of Christ in Pocatello.

A Genealogist's Objective When Reading an Obituary

Find out who all of these people are and how they are related to your family. If you don't know the connection, it's just a matter of finding the details of their lives. If you know the connections, then you will still have to search the same avenues to find the information you need about these people. So how to you go about interpreting this obituary?

Interpreting the Obituary

Many steps can be done online but for the really deep details, you might have to visit archives and libraries in person. Many townships have a genealogist society that will look up this information for you for a small fee that covers any costs that the genealogist will incur on your behalf. If you are lucky, some will do it for free on a voluntary basis while others are employed by the town or library to respond to inquiries like this. Find tools for interpreting an obituary at O

A Checklist for Interpreting an Obituary

These are general rules when looking for details to the clues given in obituaries.

  1. Look at a map to determine exactly what city, county and state the deceased lived in.
  2. Check for the Surname, Porter, in online databases or public records from that time period.
  3. Check Census reports from around that time period, if the exact year is not available, look for census reports from before and after, you'll surely find something in one or the other.
  4. Check for his brothers' names in the census reports.
  5. Check for other Pocatello newspaper publications that may have more details in the obituary.
  6. Check for newspaper articles about the deceased in the six weeks prior to his death.
  7. Check marriage records. He may have been married twice so check for more than one set of records. Check his widow's marriage records for both her marriages.
  8. Check cemetery records for Jack and all the other people listed in the obituary and in your findings.
  9. Check the Church Records for births, christenings, marriage, and burial information of the deceased, his wife and his brothers.
  10. Check military records for service and pension records from the National Archives; Jack could have enlisted for service.
  11. Check County Probate records for the deceased and his listed family.
  12. Check for published family histories in County Historical Records.
  1. Contact the Historical or Genealogical Society in Idaho for any information and check their publications for additional details. It is always best to start your research and have some details before going to the historical society, they will help narrow your search but they need as much information as you can give them to find accurate information for you.
  2. Find online chats that are discussing this family. Perhaps there are others looking for the same family and they have different information you do.

Obituaries Are Just the Starting Point

As you dig deeper, you will find more people who share the name or who are connected to the deceased. Keep a list of all the names to research and rule all the ones that don't apply to your search. The list of people to research will grow if you keep looking. From the obituary of one deceased ancestor, you may find the links to your family history. Just remember to have fun and keep your records organized!

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