Saturday, May 29, 2010

Obituaries can help to round out the story...

Obituaries are one of the best -- and at times only -- resources for uncovering the identity of ancestors. According to David Rencher, chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch, "obituaries fill that unique niche of being able to tell you where people went, as well as tell you how people are related. Names and places make obituaries especially valuable. " The "survived by" listings are usually a reservoir of family names. They often identify key locations, such as the cemetery where the deceased is buried, areas where he or she lived and places children have relocated to." Obituaries can provide precious details about occupations, marriages, military service, religious affiliation, and family lore. "It may provide information that no living person could give you about the person's life", says Paul Smart, a certified genealogist and popular lecturer. However, they are written from memory and may be subject to error and bias. Therefore, they must be scrutinized and verified with other documents whenever possible. While the undertaking of putting old newspapers online is tremendous, it is well under way. has 4,300 US newspapers in its database covering all 50 states and ranging from 1690 to the present. It is a commercial subscription site, but you can try it out for 30 days for a nominal fee. The National Digital Newspaper Program has made newspapers from 15 states and the District of Columbia between 1880 and 1922 available online. As more become available, "there will be a lot of mysteries solved through obituaries."

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