• Obituaries

    An obituary may be one of the most valuable tools in genealogical research. It is the last published record of the life of an individual.

    Sometimes a person will take great pains to prepare his/her own obituary in advance. But, generally, the immediate family is responsible for the information that will be submitted to the local newspaper by the funeral home. Sometimes that information will include a photograph of the deceased. At the request of the family, a copy of the information may also be sent to newspapers in other cities or states where the decedent lived.

    Obituaries can be short or long, but either way, both will include the name of the deceased; day and place of death; age and occupation; time and location of services; and name of funeral home. Longer obituaries frequently include a birth date, cause of death; and names of parents, siblings and other relatives; the name of the individual officiating at the service; and the cemetery where the deceased will be interred. Some obituaries also include personal information about the life of the deceased, such as educational endeavors and achievements, awards, volunteer activities, club memberships, military service and hobbies and interests.

    Local and State Libraries play an important role in locating an obituary. In beginning a search, one must know the name, date and location of the decedent’s death. Microfilmed copies of the city’s local newspaper can often be found in the Local Library. Every state has a State Library, and some have an archived collection on microfilm of nearly every newspaper that is published within that state. Some, like Michigan, also house some Naturalization Records.

    In recent years, many funeral homes have begun to publish online obituaries and photographs on their websites, allowing friends of the deceased to post personal messages to family members.

    So, study the obituary carefully, and look to each named individual or institution, such as a relative or a church, as a “clue” to more information. Hopefully, this will provide you, as researcher, with the opportunity to get to know, and feel a closer kinship, with your family member.

    - Submitted by Karen Berg Douglas