from Genealogy Gems: News from the Fort Wayne Library
No. 75, May 31, 2010
by John D. Beatty
Copyright © 2010 by Allen County Public Library. Used by permission.
Obituaries, as every researcher knows, are often goldmines of genealogical information. If they are collected for a particular place and indexed, they become much more accessible, especially when the original newspapers may no longer exist. One such valuable collection is the “Wisconsin Necrology,” gathered over many years by the Wisconsin Historical Society and available in the Genealogy Center on seven reels of microfilm under the title, “Wisconsin Deaths Taken from Assorted Wisconsin Newspapers.” The collection consists of 52 scrapbooks containing nearly 30,000 obituaries gleaned from various Wisconsin newspapers spanning the years 1846 to 1944.
The obituaries in the Necrology are recorded in various formats. Some are original clippings, mounted on paper with the newspaper name and date, and occasionally contain additional comments or annotations. Others are handwritten, evidently copied from a newspaper or intended for later publication. These also contain annotations, sometimes in the hand of Lyman Draper or other Wisconsin Historical Society librarians. While the volumes generally follow a chronological format, especially after 1892, some of the earlier volumes overlap in their dates of coverage. For example, volume two covers the years 1869 to 1889 while volume three spans from 1875 to 1891. Each of the 52 volumes in the collection opens with a typewritten index that references page numbers in that particular scrapbook. Researchers will find all of these entries included in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Wisconsin Genealogy Index.”
It is not immediately clear what criteria the society used to select obituaries for the Necrology. While the obituaries of prominent white men– pioneers, lawyers, judges, clergy, and business leaders– predominate in the earlier volumes, sometimes with accompanying newspaper portraits, those of women begin to appear with increasing frequency by the 1880s. In 1883, for example, we find the Milwaukee Sentinel obituary of a former slave, Mrs. Lucy Burel, reportedly aged 110. While the complete obituary was not clipped, the remnant states that she had served in bondage in Kentucky and Missouri and that she had ten children, of which only four reached maturity. Two have since died “and one has not been heard of since some time before the war. It may be possible that he is still alive, but Mrs. Carter, the sole remaining daughter, believes him dead.”
This source is valuable for anyone with Wisconsin connections and can be helpful in locating a place of death, if not already known.
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Steve Myers & Curt Witcher, co-editors