Newspapers: Obituaries and Death Records Provide a Wealth of Family History

The following article is by my friend, Tom Kemp.

“Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all who love obits stand up and holler!”

That is probably not the way you heard that cheer in school, but genealogists sure do love obituaries. Obituaries and death notices provide a wealth of valuable information—not only about the person who died, but most contain references to other family members that can lead your family research into new, and sometimes unexpected, directions.

Here is a good example of how useful and informative, not to mention interesting, obituaries can be. I came across this obituary for Louise Cloutier (1789-1889).

It was published in the November 13, 1889, issue of the Daily Inter-Ocean newspaper. Born in Canada in 1789, Louise lived a remarkably long life (especially for her times!), not dying until 100 years later in Chicago.

What information and clues do we get from this obituary?

  1. Name
  2. Place and year of birth
  3. Name of the cemetery
  4. Date and place of the funeral and burial
  5. Names of her three living children, where they lived, and their position in the family’s birth order
  6. Names of the towns where she had lived and how long she lived in each one
  7. Age of husband at his death and how long ago that was
  8. Details on the longevity of her father (110 years) and grandfather (90 years)
  9. Count of her descendants, by generation
  10. Best of all: her picture as rendered in a wood-cut engraving!

Remember, newspapers contain a treasure trove of obituaries. As this story illustrates, newspapers are an essential tool for documenting American family histories.

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To view the above article, complete with an illustration showing the obituary, click here.

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Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (www.FamilyRootsPublishing.com), writes daily at GenealogyBlog.com, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

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