July 16, 2021
With the growth of DNA testing as a genealogy tool, many genealogists are researching forward to find the living descendants of their relatives. This reverse genealogy helps genealogists figure out how various DNA matches fit into their family tree.
Reverse genealogy is really no different than regular genealogy. It just researches forward in time rather than back as regular genealogy does. Some of the best resources to trace people forward in time are obituaries. Unlike most other recent records which have limited access due to privacy concerns, obits tend to be available to anyone. Since they list surviving relatives of the decedent, they can help trace a family line forward another generation.
The biggest problem with recent obituaries is actually finding them, particularly online. There are many sources of earlier obits such as state historic newspapers projects, but most of them have a cut off date of 1923 or maybe a year or so later.
Within the last few years many paid sites that focus exclusively on newspapers have arisen. The three most useful are Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ ), GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com ) and NewspaperArchive (https://www.newspapersarchive.com ). All three websites have numerous digitized newspapers including many recent ones. They do not all have the same list of newspapers, so it’s best to check for the areas you’re interested in before subscribing. The biggest problem with these websites is that they can become expensive, especially if you need numerous papers from different areas and need to subscribe to all three sites.
If you prefer to stick with free sites, there are some good ones for obituaries. My favorite is a database called “America’s Obituaries and Death Notices.” The database is available through a variety of libraries around the country, including the Denver Public Library. The database is free to use at home, but it does require a library card to access. Denver Public Library cards are available for free for anyone who lives in Colorado. The database does not contain actual copies of newspaper obits but rather transcriptions of them and does not include photos. Still, it’s a great one-stop source for recent obituaries from around the country.
For newspapers from a specific area, I have had good success using local libraries. For example, the Poudre Valley Public Library here in Fort Collins has an online database containing full text articles of The Coloradoan from 1999 forward. It is free to access but does require a library card to do so. Other local libraries often have similar databases for their own local newspapers. If you don’t have a library card for a specific library, it’s worth a telephone call since many local libraries also maintain an obituary index and will check for obits for you.
Finally, if you know the funeral home that a family most likely used, many of them now have digitized obits available on their websites. These are often limited as to how far back they go, but I have seen some who have obits for twenty years or more. It’s often difficult to figure out which mortuary might have handled arrangements for the person you’re researching, but sometimes cemeteries can provide that information if you call them. Also, if you already have an obit for a spouse or close family member, it’s worth checking the funeral home mentioned there since families often stick to the same funeral home. Obituaries on funeral home sites usually include clear photos, unlike the sometimes blurry newspaper ones found on newspaper sites.
If after checking all of these sources, you still haven’t found an obituary for a recent decedent, it could be because one was not published. In recent years the practice of publishing an obituary as a routine part of the funeral process has waned. There are probably a number of reasons for this including the fact that newspaper publication of obits has gotten quite expensive in many places. There may also be privacy concerns for the living since obits typically give full names and at least partial addresses for the survivors. In spite of this, it’s always worth looking for a recent obit. You never know when you might find one!
Researcher/Director at Large