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:
- 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
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.
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.