Apr 28, 2023

Using Obits

April 28, 2023

I don’t know a single genealogist who doesn’t use obituaries. There are good reasons for this. We all know that an obit is a good way to find out where and when an ancestor died, but obits provide many other clues to an ancestor’s life.


Obituaries are common for people who died from the mid-19th through the 20th century, although obits for women were rare until the 20th century. They were usually published in a local newspaper. These newspapers are often available to researchers both on and offline. This makes obits easier to obtain than other records such as death certificates which may be restricted by privacy laws. Obits are especially useful in researching more recent relatives as often occurs when tracing DNA relatives.


Although they are not considered primary records and may be subject to errors, obits offer clues that can jump start deeper research. For example, obituaries usually list survivors. These survivor lists are worth examining in depth. Generally, all children are named, with daughters being listed under their married names. Children’s spouses are often named as well. This can help locate those “missing” children who have dropped out of other family records.


Survivor lists can also sometimes hint at prior marriages of the decedent or his/her spouse. This is particularly true if sons or unmarried daughters have different surnames than the person who died. It might be an indication that these are stepchildren. Further research into prior marriages may be worthwhile.


Other useful information in obits can include maiden names of women and parents’ names. Places of origin and immigration information may also be found in obits. This information needs to be verified but can sometimes break down brick walls.


Religious affiliation can also sometimes be found in obituaries. This can be either in a description of the person’s church activities or as a reference to a particular minister who may be named as performing the funeral. This information can lead to research into church records. Place of burial is also often included in an obituary.


In general, obits provide more information than just the date when someone died. They can give a picture of someone’s life and lead to further research. They’re worth obtaining whenever possible.


Next week I’ll examine ways to find obits online.


Carol Stetser