When building family tree charts, obituaries along with birth, marriage and death certificates yield some of the richest information. However, unlike publicly available documents stored in government digitized archives, obituaries can be much harder to find, even online. They are well worth the effort it takes to find them, though.
Sources of Newspaper Obituaries
When most people think of obituaries, they think of newspaper obituaries. However, while in the past, newspapers did print obituary columns, they often only printed those of more prominent citizens, especially in large metropolitan newspapers. To complicate matters, not all of these obituaries have been digitized and most of them are not available from a single large database. Funeral homes and mortuaries also historically have written obituaries, but these too have not been exhaustively digitized.
It is an enormous job, but some organizations, such as online obituary organizations are attempting to compile free obituary databases. Others are offering fee-based obituary searches. Still others are compiling exhaustive links to newspaper obituaries and provide maps that you can access links to newspapers by state. Using one of these free searches is an educational way to find out more about what is contained in obituaries.
How to Find Newspaper Obituaries for Your Family Tree Research
If a U.S. or U.K. map is your starting point, try clicking on a state or district that interests you. You will then see a list of newspapers, alphabetized by their location. Click on one of these links and you will be directed to the most recent obituaries from that publication. The information included in a newspaper obituary will be much more than you will need for family tree templates, but will be invaluable for building a timeline and for giving you hints for your search for other descendants. For example, it will mention the place where the funeral was held. You can then contact the funeral home or church and get more information from them.
Searching Obituaries Online
If you are searching for obituaries online, the more information you have to begin with, the more likely you will be of success. Entering a first and last name in a search engine is going to yield thousands of unrelated results. Entering a first, middle and surname will narrow the field down considerably. Entering a date of birth will probably yield more than one result, but will make finding the person you are looking for considerably easier. You can also whittle down your results by entering their place of birth or death and whatever else you may know. Learning to use the advanced search facility on a search engine will be a big advantage, as well.
A good obituaries website will also have links to old newspaper obituary archives. It may take a bit of luck, but if you know where someone distantly related to you lived, it is likely that they passed away there as well. The old newspaper archives may have their obituary. Since these are often free services, it is certainly worth a try.
Building family tree charts is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It can look like a complicated mess, but once you start fitting some pieces, others follow. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it can get frustrating at times. Using online resources like obituary sites will help you complete your family tree templates and timelines faster and more accurately.
free obituary template