Finding detailed information about specific ancestors is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogical research. When you’re dealing with recent generations of ancestors, one of the most illuminating records that you can access is an obituary. Obituaries are often written by loved ones, or by professional journalists after interviewing the deceased’s family or friends. These documents may contain numerous details that streamlines your research, as well as anecdotes that bring an ancestor’s personality to life. Here’s a closer look at how researchers use obituaries in the genealogical research process, and a list of resources to help you track them down.
Why obituaries are helpful
Obituaries are typically published in newspapers after the death of an individual. Obituaries contain information such as full name, birth date, death date, locations, and the names of surviving family members. It may also contain additional details like place of birth, immigration status, military service, fraternal organization affiliations, and much more. It’s a genealogist’s dream to access these data points in one consolidated form, often related by the deceased’s closest kin or friends. Obituaries can help you focus in on your future research, developing hypotheses on specific areas for further inquiry.
A note of caution
It’s important to fact-check what you read in obituaries. Bereaved families may be relying on family lore, spotty records, and other unreliable sources when pulling together information. Details can become confused during the painful period following the death of a loved one. When relatives passed on who lived in times or locations without good record keeping, in many cases exact dates of birth were unknown. In other cases, the specificity of details might be unclear. For example, an obituary might report that an ancestor was born in London, England, but in truth they were born in one of the hundreds of villages in the immediate vicinity.
Sometimes, family legends may obscure someone’s true origins such as focusing on a Native American ancestry claim that’s unsubstantiated. Obituaries can be helpful documents. But it’s important to remember that these are not primary records. Instead, they rely on fallible human memory. Your research will benefit if you treat obituaries as a reference, and then work to verify each data point in the document.
Strategies for tracking down obituaries
Finding obituaries isn’t always easy. It depends upon where and when your ancestor died, as well as their status, profession, and even religious affiliations in their community. What follows are some helpful resources to begin your search.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database: The ProQuest database has digitized the archives of large newspapers such as The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and papers of similar caliber. Your local or state library may offer access to this database. You’ll have the best luck if your ancestors lived in an urban area and were affluent or prominent in some way, as these newspapers typically charged a fee to run death notices.
Chronicling America: Chronicling America is a project of the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize more than 7 million small-town American newspapers. Editions of newspapers are constantly being added. The U.S. Newspaper Directory is particularly helpful.
Ethnic NewsWatch: Ethnic newspapers may have obituaries for specific community members not featured in general publications. If your ancestor died after 1990, Ethnic NewsWatch offers a searchable database. Ethnic Newswatch: History covers from 1958 – 1989. Access to these databases may be available at your local library or through your state library system.
Individual newspaper databases: In some cases, newspapers and publications have chosen to digitize their own collections. For example, the Times of London has made their archives from 1785 – 2008 available online. Check to see if area newspapers have handled their own digitization efforts.
Subscription sites: Many subscription products offer access to collections of obituaries. One of the most extensive is GenealogyBank, which offers “modern” obituaries from the 1970s and historic American ones dating from the 1690s. Ancestry.com and similar programs also have access to these documents.
Other resources: If your online searches are turning up dry in specialized databases, there are a few more directions that you can take. One is to search the Google News Archive, which digitized a large number of newspapers before abandoning the project. Another is to search state and county Death Indexes and obituary indexes. Finally, consider visiting the local library or town hall where your ancestor resided. Their obituary may be available on microfiche or through a locally searchable database.
Do you need assistance finding obituaries or other death records in your genealogical research? Contact us today at Price & Associates to arrange for a personalized consultation to discuss your project and how our experienced team of genealogists can help.
The introduction of DNA services has opened up a whole new line of research and inquiry for genealogists. It’s also opened a can of worms for many researchers that are struggling to answer questions from family members when they’re discussing results or requesting a DNA sample. Frequent questions include: What do you mean you found a new cousin online? Why do I have to give a sample if we’re already related? (Hint: it’s because of gender and DNA). What do you do if you get surprise information from a test? Here’s a closer look at how to handle delicate questions about DNA testing and family research.
What is family DNA testing?
Many people in your family may be unfamiliar with how much information is looked at during the family history DNA process. While it varies by company, few on the market actually provide health information. In some cases, people object to their DNA being captured simply because they don’t want to know sensitive health information such as whether they’re at risk for dementia or cancer. Assure your relative that genealogical DNA doesn’t map individual DNA at that level. Instead, they’re looking for the markers that give clues to ethnicity and relationships. But no personal health information needs to be revealed.
Why does gender matter?
Another point of confusion for many people on genealogical DNA testing is why more than one person in a family might need to be tested. Consider the case of a brother and sister who share the same mother and father. On the surface, you’d expect the information revealed to be largely similar. This includes any data about existing relatives already in those database or ethnicities, for example. However, many people don’t realize that we carry DNA from both our mothers and our fathers; depending on our gender, this information is revealed differently in DNA tests. Testing women or men will reveal information about the mother’s DNA. But only through testing the male line will you be able to get specific information about your paternal DNA. That’s why families often invest in having a member of both genders tested.
How closely are we related to specific people online?
Many services provide the opportunity to let people being tested opt in their global database. If you do, you’ll be able to see if there’s anyone else related to you in the database. Other users could also theoretically find you. It’s often possible to opt in anonymously or to create a detailed profile with information such as your name, location, age, and details of your family’s heritage. Individual researchers and their families can make decisions about how much information to reveal, whether to contact relatives in the database, and how to respond to inquiries initiated by other users.
What approach will we take to sensitive information?
In some cases, families uncover unexpected information as a result of DNA tests. For example, a cherished family story about a Native American ancestor is challenged by a lack of DNA evidence. Or perhaps your tests revealed an ethnicity not known to be in the family mix. It’s important to remember that the technology is evolving, and each set of results is open to questions. Surprises in the family history can often be a delight, and with a bit of research you can learn the story behind these mystery connections.
Are you considering options for including DNA research into your genealogical process, and want to discuss your choice with a professional? Contact Price & Associates today to discuss your research plans and what services might be the right solution for your needs.
One of the greatest assets available to you in your quest to understand your family may be sitting right next to you. As researchers, it’s easy to become enamored with histories compiled by other researchers and the primary documents from different eras. Yet as many researchers get older, they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having failed to ask many of the questions they always wanted to know from people that passed on – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. Here’s an overview of how a genealogical researcher can use oral histories to help inform her work.
Be open to the idea that people’s lives may not have been as you expected: For many people, it’s hard to imagine a time when your grandparents were young, having grand adventures, traveling the world, and falling in love. Perhaps your beloved grandfather fought in a war overseas and remembers important moments of bravery. Maybe your most recent ancestors lived simpler lives, guided by a dedication to their work and a love of family.
Whatever the stories are that emerge, they help you understand specifically where you come from and how members of your family overcame difficulties, achieved goals, and found moments of joy in their lives. Bring your curiosity to the conversation, but work hard to manage your preconceptions.
Ask detailed questions about their lives: Use interview time to explore what their early lives were like. Where did they grow up and go to school? What was their family life like? Who were their friends and what did they do for fun? Discuss school, how they did, and what subjects they loved. How did they choose their career or professional life? If they married, how did they meet? What was courtship and marriage like?
Ask questions about their children, grandchildren, and broader family connections: What funny stories do they remember, and what things have brought them great happiness or sadness throughout their lives? If there are specific questions you’ve always wanted to ask – like for example what made this person convert to a particular religion, become a vegetarian, or decide to spend time overseas – make the time to ask those now.
Use their expertise of other family members: Ask your family member to share recollections of their parents, children, spouses, siblings, and other family members. Often their memories can help fill important gaps in your knowledge about specific relatives and create more complete pictures of their lives. You can also use your relative’s expertise to help identify the people in old family photos and learn more about them.
Preserve your interviews: There are a number of different ways to preserve these interviews. Interviews can be recorded using audio or video equipment. You can also take detailed notes or transcribe your conversation. The more complete the preservation, the more accessible the information will be for generations to come.
Are you interested in conducting oral histories with key members of your family but don’t feel like you have the time or expertise? Contact our offices today to discuss how one of Price & Associate’s professional genealogists can help you plan or conduct and analyze these important conversations.
Throughout the centuries and in locations ranging from early Europe to colonial America through the early 20th century, churches have been the centers of lives and communities. In many cases, even if an individual wasn’t particularly religious, he or she still regularly attended services due to laws and social conventions. One of the central locations that life’s major events were recorded was by a person’s local church or parish. From baptisms to marriages to deaths, and in some cases even interesting life anecdotes, it’s possible to learn about your ancestors through church records. Here’s what you need to know to get started with genealogical research using religious records.
But which church should I look at?
With America’s blended families, it’s possible that you’ll find ancestors in the same family tree with a wide range of religious affiliations. In some cases, the answers will be more obvious than others. For example, ancestors from Rome are likely Roman Catholic; those from early Pennsylvania stand a good chance of being Quakers; in England, most people after the reign of Henry VIII belonged to the Church of England; family residing in Massachusetts in 1630 are likely to have been Calvinist; and the Salt Lake City region is a hot spot for LDS families. In other cases, it’s simply impossible to know. Regardless, there are some simple ways to determine religious affiliations:
- In what cemetery is your ancestor buried? Often, cemeteries belonged to a specific denomination and even church.
- Do you have information about other members of the family? Members of a family often share their faith.
- Check obituaries, wedding announcements, and engagement listings for details of a church where the people were members or where ceremonies were held.
- If you have detailed marriage records that include the name of the official, it may be possible to determine his or her religious affiliation through church or historical records.
- Funerary cards and other items affiliated with mourning and funerals may suggest a church or presiding clergy.
- Consider geography. What churches existed in your ancestor’s locale during his or her lifetime? It’s much more likely that they walked to the church that was 2 miles away each Sunday than the one that was 10 miles away.
- In some cases, census records may contain religious information.
What to do with religious records
Once you’ve determined your ancestor’s religious denomination, it’s important to determine which congregation he or she was part of. The individual church may maintain historical records, or be able to advise you of where they are stored. Depending on the religion, often individual churches are part of a larger organization (for example, a parish, ward, or diocese depending upon the denomination).
Working at that level may also give you access to broader historical records, and help you clarify the evolution of that church in a specific region. Sending an email or written letter is often a great way to get started. It’s helpful to remember that many churches are small and understaffed, or have no staff at all. Generally speaking, pastors and their assistants are helpful in responding to requests but you’re more likely to get a detailed response to a written query than to a phone call or an in-person visit, unless those are pre-arranged.
The genealogical community has done an excellent job centralizing this truly dispersed aspect of genealogy research. We recommend the following reference points to get started in learning more about sources of information about religious records for your ancestors.
Cyndi’s List: An outstanding web-based site that gives recommendations of where to find resources by denomination and religion.
Church of Latter Day Saints Resources: The LDS Church has some of the most extensive genealogical collections in the world. Two helpful places to start include the LDS Genealogy Forum and Family Search.
Judaism Resources: If your family tree includes ancestors who were Jewish, begin your search at JewishGen.Org.
If you’re working to locate historical or religious records related to an ancestor, consulting a professional genealogist may be the solution you’re looking for.
More than any other interest or vocation, genealogy requires true passion. Spending hundreds of hours chasing the names, dates, and details of the lives of your ancestors through dusty library stacks, endless computer databases, and convoluted correspondence with distant bureaucrats could only be called a labor of love. Many genealogists think about how to share that spark and keep the interests alive within future generations of their families. Here are some creative ways to get children, teenagers, and young adults interested in genealogy.
Pull out famous connections: In general, as genealogists we want to minimize the impact of famous relatives. Every ancestor is important! But if you are the descendent of a famous general or have a literary genius in the extended family tree, use that as an entry point to engage kids. One family that discovered a great uncle was a famous American poet, for example, bought a book of his poetry and read it aloud with their family. They then used short biographies and photographs to create crafting opportunities for the children that centered on each one’s favorite poem that he had written.
Connect your family history to curriculum: Tying genealogical research to a child’s school curriculum can help them make important connections. For example, colonial American ancestors may be more interesting after a child has studied the Mayflower and Pilgrims. A Daughters of the American Revolution application for one of your ancestors will mean much more to someone who has studied the late 1700s. Finding connections, especially based on subjects that interest the child in question, can help draw them in.
Engage them in your quest for information: There are two ways to approach genealogical research. One is like homework, and the other is like a mystery where you’re hunting for important clues. Guess which one resonates more with kids? Choose an interesting piece of family history and define a clear research problem. Use kids’ natural facility with technology to search databases, explore online, and illustrate the role of technology in modern research. If you can bridge the idea that genealogy involves both technological innovation and creative thought, bright kids will be hooked.
Use family photos to play games: Games are inherently fun, and photos are a terrific gateway into your family’s history. Use old photos to help explore the relationships between people. Show a picture of Grandma as a child, for example, and encourage them to guess who she is. Share stories of her time spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard, or how her father emigrated from Canada. You’ll receive bonus points for funny and exotic stories. Another approach is to use historic photos and ask kids to play detective. Can they guess the timeframe based on the clothing? Are there items in the picture that offer clues as to the place, period, or occupant of the featured person?
Explain what it means to you: Take the time to explain to the children and young adults in your life why you became fascinated with genealogy. Did uncovering the stories of your ancestors help you feel deeply connected to past generations? Were you captivated by the story of an ancestor on a grand adventure, and want to learn more about them? Perhaps you stumbled across a photo that spoke to you across generations? Whatever your motivation, whatever your interests, take the time to share that. Your motivations can help kids recognize their own interests. Also take the time to share why you want them to be involved, and how and why it’s important to you that family stories continue on.
Getting the next generation of your family interested in genealogy is a great way to make sure that your work carries on. Our professional genealogists are happy to help you teach the fundamentals of genealogy to young researchers, or work with you to document your family history in a format that’s easy to share. Contact us today to arrange for a personal consultation.