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Don’t Forget the Obituary

The single best piece of information you can find about a person is usually their obituary. Unless you are related to a celebrity, the obituary is probably the most detailed biographical sketch you will find of a person's life. It provides you with countless pieces of information, as well as names (and sometimes locations) of the person's immediate relatives. When beginning your family history research, the first place you should turn is the obituaries.

Obituaries have been published since the early 1800s, and detailed biographies came into style around the time of the Civil Way, so you can use obituaries to research people more than one or two generations back. Most people overlook this fact, thinking that obituary research will only be useful for information they already know. That's just a starting point. For example, if you find the obituary for your grandmother, it will probably list her maiden name as well as her parents and siblings, so you can use this information to continue your search. Some detailed obituaries, both very old and modern, include much more information including hometown, church affiliation, political party, organization membership, cause of death, place of burial, and occupation. Occasionally, if your ancestor was a well-known member of the community, you will find not only an obituary, but also an article about their life and achievements. Make a copy of this for your records.

Obituaries are not as hard to locate as you may think. There is no nation-wide database of all obituaries, if you know the location and approximate death date of your ancestor, you may be able to find it in the newspaper. However, some papers do keep their own indexes of obituaries, depending on the volume they write every day. The librarian at your local library will be able to help you in this area, as well as teach you to use microfiche and microfilm readers if necessary. Some genealogical societies also keep an index of obituaries, so you can check there as well.

Remember that the obituary may have been published in more than one newspaper; so check all of the periodicals in the proximity of the person's location at death and their hometown location. Many times, they will each include different information, making your obituary search even more successful. Obituaries are a great resource for anyone beginning genealogical research, so don't overlook their usefulness when you are beginning your project.

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