OBITUARIES IN FAMILY HISTORY

2020 Donald R. Snow

This page was last updated 2020-02-02.
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ABSTRACT: Obituaries have been published in newspapers since nearly the beginning of newspapers which was in 1690 in the U.S. Some have more details than others, but even if they just report the death, they are valuable and are public records. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently had a major project to index obituaries since they contain so much genealogical information. This class will discuss obituaries and newspapers and show some websites to locate obituaries, how to do screenshots of them, and how to extract the genealogy information they contain. They sometimes contain small clues or words such as a relationship or location that may have been unknown. Small town newspapers are especially helpful since a death in the town was big news and relatives frequently came to attend the funeral. The class notes and related articles, all with active Internet links, are on Don's website  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .

    WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION

  1. Instructor is Donald R. Snow ( snowd@math.byu.edu ) of Provo and St. George, Utah.
  2. These note are posted on  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html .
  3. Tips:  (1)  Easy to put an icon on your desktop for the URL for these notes or any URL; just drag the icon from in front of the address in your browser to your desktop.  (2)  To open a link from here in another tab, but keep your place in these notes, hold down the Control key while clicking the link.
  4. The problem for today:  How to find and work with obituaries in family history.
  5. NEWSPAPERS AND OBITUARIES

  6. Newspapers started in the US in 1690 in Massachusetts -- see Publick Occurences Both Forreign and Domestick, 1690 
  7. Obituaries in newspapers -- very sketchy at first, then more extensive in latter 1800's; small town newspapers usually had more information since it was big news; may be news articles, as well as the obituary section 
  8. Interesting example -- Warren Ladd read his own obituary in the morning newspaper, The Lowell Sun, 30 Dec 1893
  9. Newspapers now charge lots for obituarie, but it is a wonderful tribute and memorial and they provide genealogy information -- Example:  Diane Manwaring Snow -- Salt Lake Deseret News 2012
  10. Some newspapers publish local death notices without charge
  11. Obituaries are public, unlike vital records, and they are primary sources for death and burial  information    
  12. FamilySearch recently had a major project of indexing obituaries, since they contain so much genealogical information
    1. FamilySearch never filmed many newspapers, so they contracted with NewsBank and other organizations to index their filmed obituaries and news articles
    2. Articles about collaboration of FamilySearch and GenealogyBank (NewsBank) to index obituaries and news articles -- http://www.leedrew.com/2014/08/massive-us-obituary-collection-added-to.html  and  The Ancestry Insider 
  13. From 1977 on newspapers have been set digitally, so newspapers before 1977 are called historic and from 1977 on are called modern
  14. Many historic newspapers have not been digitized yet so they are only available on film and in libraries -- Library of Congress is giving grants to digitize all newspapers  -- link to some free digitized newspapers in the U.S. is  https://www.thoughtco.com/us-historical-newspapers-online-by-state-1422215 -- Utah Digital Newspapers is  https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/search
  15. FINDING OBITUARIES

  16. Check FamilySearch Historical Records -- to narrow down the search, try just the state, then terms like "newspapers", "obituaries", or "death", (without the quotes) you don't know what the title of the collection might be
  17. Check obituary indexes -- GenealogyBank (commercial),  Ancestry (commercial, but free to LDS and at FHC's),  Tributes.com (free),   Obituary Research Guide USA (guide to finding),  Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records (list of online indexes),  The Obituary Daily Times (index to current obits)
  18. Check  Find A Grave (free)  and  BillionGraves (free) -- they frequently have links to obituaries
  19. Google the name with variations, e.g. ' "Eldon Snow" OR "Eldon S. Snow" OR "Eldon Stafford Snow" ' (without the outside quotes) or "eldon AROUND(3) snow" (proximity search)
  20. Find the locality where they died - U.S. Social Security Death Index on several websites including GenealogyBank -- https://www.genealogybank.com/explore/ssdi/all
  21. Determine newspapers in the locality at the time -- Linkpendium  has list by state and county, gives links for newspapers online and shows other newspapers of that time and locality; see also  Library of Congress Chronicling AmericaNewspaper Archives and Morgues , and  National Digital Newspaper Program 
  22. Write or visit public libraries in the locality -- many have collections of obituaries clipped from newspapers in their area, "vertical collections", i.e. folders in file cabinets 
  23. Utah records
    1. Early Utah listings in Deseret News -- see my notes  LDS and Utah Records  for complete listings
    2. Utah Digital Newspapers 
    3. Utah Death CertificatesOnline Utah Death RecordsUtah Cemeteries and Burials Index -- Do Google searches for other states 
  24. Other newspaper websites
    1. Elephind newspaper search -- https://www.elephind.com/
    2. BYU Library Newspaper Collection 
    3. MyHeritage -- includes World Vital records
    4. NewsBank Historical Newspapers -- commercial division of Proquest; estimated that they cover 90% of all current deaths
    5. Online newspapers world-wide -- http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/
    6. In US -- Wikipedia NewsBank article
    7. Newspapers Online (commercial)
    8. https://www.thoughtco.com/chronicling-america-historic-newspapers-1422214

    CLUES IN OBITUARIES AND OTHER DEATH RECORDS

  25. Obituaries are (almost) primary documents for death and burial and secondary for everything else; verify all data and relationships given by finding additional sources
  26. Be sure to view the original obituary since there may be more, e.g. a photo; GenealogyBank obits do not include the photo even if the original newspaper obit did 
  27. People mentioned -- many will be relatives and you may get clues to where they lived
  28. Membership and activities mentioned -- churches, organizations, military, schools, occupations, businesses (may have licenses, e.g. medical, dental, construction), unions, places lived, hobbies, clubs, vacations
  29. May get additional clues from undertakers records, cemetery, sexton's records, burial plot (Is it a family plot with others buried nearby?)
  30. Symbols on tombstones give clues -- http://msghn.org/usghn/symbols.html
  31. City directories  may give additional information about addresses and businesses 
  32. Check Veterans Administration, if they were military, and pension records
  33. SCREENSHOTS, SAVING, AND ATTACHING OBITUARIES

  34. Use a screen capture program to save screenshots of obituaries, e.g. FastStone Capture 5.3 (last free version) -- most obits are on scrolling windows; FastStone Capture can capture the entire scrolling window -- label it so it sorts in timeline order -- see Timeline notes on my webpage for details 
  35. If obituary is online, save a copy to your computer and the online URL to your Family Tree Source Box and attach it in Family Tree
  36. Screenshots or scans of obits can also be posted on FamilySearch Family Tree.
  37. CONCLUSIONS

  38. The notes for my Newspapers class has many more links -- see  http://uvtagg.org/classes/dons/dons-classes.html 
  39. Obituaries may contain a wealth of family history information; save all links and info about the person to get a complete story

Return to the  Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group Home Page  or  Don's Class Listings Page .