Thursday, July 21, 2011


By Joan Young
from Rootsweb Review 14:7 (July 13, 2011). Reprinted by permission.

Obtaining an obituary (when you already have proof of death)

They say nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. Records involving both can help in your genealogical research. Even if you already have obtained a death certificate or located an individual in the Social Security Death Index when the death is recent (mostly 1962 to the present), or found burial or cemetery data -- obtaining an obituary can still be helpful. You may think that once you have ascertained the date and location of death you no longer need to look further. You may be missing valuable family information if you overlook an obituary.

In some cases, obituaries are nothing more than a two or three line statement of the death of an individual with very little useful family information. In other cases, obituaries can be a goldmine fleshing out your ancestors' lives. Obituaries often include a list of all living relatives and sometimes those who are no longer living. They may provide you with married names of siblings you hadn't previously discovered. You may learn where family members were living when the obituary was published. Sometimes, small town newspapers will include the name of another town with the notation "please copy." This can be a clue that the deceased was originally from that town, previously lived there, or has family there. My great-great-grandmother, Catherine (DIETERICH) SMITH died in York County, Pennsylvania, and her obituary carried the notation "Lancaster papers please copy." I knew very little about Catherine and this tip gave me a lead to pursue.

Additionally, an obituary may (if you get lucky) provide information about your family member's life you would otherwise have never known. My great-grandmother's obituary stated that she'd been in good health until the Atlantic City (New Jersey) railroad disaster of July 1896 when her back was badly injured. I hadn't known about the train wreck before finding the obituary. Another ancestor's obituary contained the information that when she passed away at an advanced age she could still "read her Bible without glasses which she had never worn." This not only told me about her eyesight but also informed me this female ancestor could read at a time when many women could not.

There are many online resources both free and subscription where you can find obituaries. Some resources are:

Cyndi's List, Obituaries

Free Online Obituaries

Linkpendium (click on the locality links for the location where your family member died and then on Obituaries and Funeral Home Records)

RootsWeb obituary resources:

RootsWeb User-Contributed Databases
RootsWeb message boards. Select the advanced search option and search the Classification "Obituary."

Search and/or subscribe to an obituary mailing list

If you cannot find the obituary you seek, you can post a query on the appropriate locality message board or mailing list to locate a volunteer in that area who may be able to obtain the obituary you need, use volunteer resources such as Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, or contact a library or historical society for their available obituaries.

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