Obituaries and Genealogy

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Lineage Lessons

Some of the “best” obituaries are those published by religious societies. A fellow church-goer who knew the deceased would write what we as genealogists love—notices giving the whole family and obscure details that we wouldn't find elsewhere. Church obituaries are not always in the published religious newspaper; some are actually in the church's minutes. Determine the denomination, and do some investigating on the Internet for existing records. For example, check out for obituaries of members of the old Regular Baptist church in Kentucky and surrounding areas.

The family's thank-you after the father's death.
The family's thank-you after the father's death.
The family's thank-you when the mother died.
The family's thank-you when the mother died.

Urban Versus Small-Town Newspapers

Normally the small-town newspaper was more expansive in its notices than the larger urban newspapers. Tight-knit communities wanted details. They knew the family intimately and could provide interesting bits of data. The sheer volume of people in populated areas mandated that only selected obituaries could be included: usually prominent individuals or long-time residents. This holds true today. It can be especially important to check for death listings in a city newspaper, because they publish so few full obituaries.

The Family Thanks You

In some areas, it was, and still is, popular for the family to publish a card of thanks during the month following the funeral. Watch for these. A pair of examples are shown below.

These figures from early newspapers show two cards of thanks from the same family; one notice was published after the death of the father and the other after the death of the mother. Note the discrepancies in the lists. Some differences might be explained by marriages, but others are clear errors in one or the other list. Research will determine which names are correct. Such discrepancies are common and emphasize the necessity for gathering as many records as possible on the same individual.

The family may have published a notice to mark the anniversary of the death of their family member. Typically, these are brief “In Memoriam” types of notices. They are often signed, providing names of living relatives.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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