I still remember my grandmother getting the paper and the first thing she turned to was the obituary page. She wanted to see if it contained anyone she knew.
I use obituaries in a similar way, to learn more about the family members that I wished I had known.
For my family research, obituaries have been invaluable. I use a wide variety of documents such as: census records, passenger lists, birth certificates, naturalization records, etc. in my research. Perhaps none are better than obituaries.
Why do I love obituaries so much? Nothing seems to connect the dots and help you find missing relatives better than a well written obituary.
Here is a perfect example from my maternal Great-Grandfather, George Gula.
- Date of birth: March 18, 1889
- Birthplace: Wolowitz, Austria (This was an amazing hint, since I didn't know where he was born)
- Occupation: Hempfield Foundry in Greensburg
- Church: St. John's Byzantine Church (not only do you learn about his faith, but the church could be an additional source of information)
- Children: This can help you find living children's names, plus the spouses and married names of his daughters. Also, it tells you where they were living at the time, which can be invaluable when trying to track them down.
- Siblings: I didn't realize that George had a sister and that she lived in Connecticut.
What a wealth of information!
Where are the best places to look for obituaries?
I have had a lot of success on Ancestry.com. However, not by searching in the Ancestry.com "obituary" section. I search under the "Newspaper & Publications" section. Ancestry.com has a nice selection of newspapers and look for a local newspaper for my ancestor. I choose a local newspaper (if they have it) and search for my ancestors name or sometimes just surname. Sometimes, I will use the keyword of “died” or “obituary” to narrow down the results.
When researching my Maine family roots, I have had a lot of luck with GenealogyBank.com to find obituaries. They have a huge selection of newspapers from every state.
When I have known exactly when and where my Maine ancestors died, I have turned to the Maine State Library. They have a service where they will lookup obituaries for you. The state of Maine State Library has a number of newspapers in their archive from all over the state and for a fee of $5 they will find the obituary or death notice (no charge if they don't find the obituary) for you. I have had a great experience working with them. Usually, they will email me and let me know if they were able to find the full obituary (which is probably worth the fee) or if it is just a death notice (which may not be). You can use this website to request an obituary from the Maine State Library.
For me, obituaries have been a critical source of information. They can take a little work to track down, but the hard works usually pays off.