29    Mar 20090 comments

Obituaries: Not everything’s online, Part 2

The first part of this obituary posting featured online resources for obituaries. However, not everything is online. So here's some information on finding these useful records the old-fashioned way. Sometimes you will need an online pointer to find an offline resource.

While an obituary can be key to solving a family mystery, not all obituaries are digitized or indexed online. While many are microfilmed, even more are hardcopies - either bound or sitting on shelves. So where can we find them? Taking a step back, how do we find where a certain person lived so we can search for a newspaper notice?

The first step is finding out where the person died.

In the US, and in some Canadian provinces, death records are searchable online. In the US, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) provides data on place of death or where benefits were paid, indicating a survivor.

Look for addresses and phone numbers of the deceased and do the old-fashioned thing - write a real letter. Say that you are interested in researching the family and are trying to find an obituary for your relative. You may not hear from many people, but you just might hear from a person who knows the information you need.

I once sent out about 100 letters to an area around Detroit, Michigan, looking for a specific family from Mogilev, Belarus. Most never responded, but several did. One man said he wasn't part of the family I was looking for - as far as he knew - but he did know them and was happy to put us in touch. It only takes one letter that reaches the right person to find your missing branches.

Find out about local newspapers where your relative lived or died. Write a compelling letter to the editor. There might be information on that person in the paper's archive and if the letter is printed, readers might have more information. It is worth a try.

Other places to search:

- Newspapers
- University and public libraries
- Funeral homes
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Houses of worship
- Coroner's office
- Historical or genealogical societies
- Local museums
- Local clubs and business organizations
- University alumni associations, or local high schools

Continue reading "Obituaries: Not everything’s online, Part 2" »

25    Mar 20093 comments

Obituaries: Clues from beyond, Part 1

How can we find more information about our ancestors?

An excellent method to locate more details is to find a published death notice or obituary for a relative which may list spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings and more. Out-of-area relatives may be identified with places of residence.

What's an obituary (called an "obit")?

Obituaries are short biographies - a memorial to a deceased person's life. The information contained may provide additional information by following the clues. Generally, families provide basic information to a newspaper which generates the written notice. If the deceased person is a prominent community member, there may be much more.

In many large cities, a short death notice is what you will find, listing minimum details, unless the deceased was a famous person. Short death notices are submitted to newspapers by funeral homes and are sometimes considered a free community service. Longer obituaries with photos are paid for by the family. Each publication has its own guidelines for obituaries and death notice.


Let's use this 1912 New York Times obit as an example.

Click to view photo in full size

NAME: The first name, middle initial and last name of the deceased. John Henry Ehrhorn

AGE: The deceased's age will generally follow the name - and provide clues to the birth year for further research. Sometimes the actual date of birth is included. Of course, the obit's writer assumes he or she has the correct information. However, assumptions are dangerous and checking other documents may be necessary. 60 years old, born 1841

ADDRESS: The deceased's complete address may appear or only the city and/or state. 444 W. 24th Street. New York

CAUSE OF DEATH: This may be included and is helpful for a family health tree. Heart disease.

EULOGY: The writer may add descriptions of the deceased's life, major events, accomplishments, etc.

PLACE OF BIRTH: Where the person was born, if they immigrated and when. Hamburg, Germany 1841.

PLACE OF DEATH: Did they die at home, in a hospital or in a nursing home? Was that place in the town of residence or in a different location? At his residence.

SERVICE: The obituary will include the name of the funeral home, the address, time of service, cemetery name. The funeral home may have even more details - from comments made by family members and recorded in the file - if the researcher can contact the home for more information.

OCCUPATION: Researchers may find the name of the deceased's business, professional qualifications, length of time in the location, university graduation and more. Retired cigar manufacturer, was in business for 40 years, since 2872.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: This may include the deceased's local affiliations as a volunteer, membership in a church or synagogue, etc.), business and community organizations, etc. Feffler Lodge, St. Luke's Hospital, Masons.

HOBBIES: This may also include clubs, memberships, organizations and other accomplishments.

MILITARY SERVICE: This may include dates, branch of service, number of years served, honors and other details.

MARRIAGE: The spouse's name (still living or deceased), the date and place of marriage, the maiden name, birthplace or more details. Doesn't say, likely she died before.

SURVIVORS: This section will list the names of survivors, including parents, children, grandchildren, step-children, brothers, sisters, cousins and others. This is useful as it may indicate non-local relatives and where they live. Three sons: Henry (a Post Office superintendent at Station J) and Oscar (a lawyer at 15 William St.), third son not named.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: This may include the name of the specific house of worship the deceased was affiliated with, and provide additional information..

PLACE AND SERVICE: This will include the funeral home, address, funeral time and place, a memorial service and where post-funeral memorial services will take place and when.

PALLBEARERS: The names and affiliations of these individuals may shed clues on additional relatives, business or community affiliations.

CONTRIBUTIONS AND OTHER MEMORIALS: A request for donations - in lieu of funeral flowers - to specific causes or organizations may add information on health issues, the deceased's interests and hobbies.

Continue reading "Obituaries: Clues from beyond, Part 1" »

19    Mar 20091 comment

Irish Research: Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Ethnic holidays - such as St. Patrick's Day for those with Irish ancestry - often spur an interest in family history. According to the New York Times, the Irish diaspora in the United States numbers more than 36 million people, more than eight times Ireland's population. Many are searching their roots, and creating demand for accessible resources.

Ireland 1790 map

Every ethnicity has its own challenges, but the international interest of Irish researchers means there are many websites, online databases, and a community of researchers willing to assist.

The most important place to start researching any ancestry, of course, is your own family. Ask questions and record the answers. Try to get names and towns of origin, dates of immigration and other pertinent details. Ask about immigration and citizenship documents, obituaries and cemetery records, family bibles, and other types of documents.

For Irish research, it is important to know the origin (parish or town) of your family and what religion (Protestant, Catholic or did they belong to the small but vibrant Jewish community). When did they live in Ireland? To where and when did they immigrate? What were their occupations?

As you speak to relatives, remember to record all stories and customs. While not everything may be true, or may have been embellished over the years, there is usually a kernel of truth. Write down everything as even the smallest of clues may be valuable.

Each category of ethnic research has its own problems - Irish genealogy is no different, and in fact the field suffered three major losses which effect research:

- In the early 19th century, Dublin Castle's Record Tower was destroyed.

- During World War I's paper shortage, the government ordered the destruction of the censuses for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891.

- Most civil records (including the censuses of 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851) were burned in a 1922 fire at the Ireland Public Record office.

Ireland took a census every 10 years from 1821-1911. Today, the oldest ones available are 1901 and 1911, which are microfilmed and available at the Mormon Family History Library and international centers; 1901 has databased or published indexes.

Four-Leaf Clover

To go back in time, it is essential to find the town or parish of origin. Although the 1922 fire destroyed the 19th-century censuses, parish registers of the Church of England and other important collections, records kept in other offices survived. These include vital civil records (birth, marriage, death), other religious records, later censuses and property records.

Many Irish immigrants went to Australia and New Zeland, the UK, the US and Canada, so useful resources will include passenger arrival and naturalization records, gravestones, military service, obituaries, land deeds, family bibles, wills and other items. Information may be different depending on the country and year.
Continue reading "Irish Research: Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day" »

11    Mar 20093 comments

Searching your Swiss roots?

Put tooltip hereIf your ancestors came from the Italian-speaking region of Ticino and the valleys of south Graubunden, there's a great new resource here. I also strongly recommend the site to researchers of any ethnicity who wish to understand the lives of our ancestors. While the locations and language may change, the realities of a hard life and the desire for a better life are universal.

Ticino is the red-highlighted area in the map above right, while Graubunden is the dark green area immediately adjacent on the right.

Swiss-Italian Migrations is a richly detailed multimedia networking site for this geographic area. It offers a detailed comprehensive view in English and in Italian.

In the 19th-early 20th centuries, tens of thousands of people emigrated to other countries from the region. They established new lives in Australia, the US, in South America and in other European countries.

Put tooltip hereThe article - with videos, slideshows, songs and many links for additional information - explain historical reasons behind the migration. There are interviews with experts on migration and genealogy, while background information, interviews and videos provide an intimate look at southern Switzerland then and now, as well as the descendants of those immigrants.
Continue reading "Searching your Swiss roots?" »

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