For a Genealogist, the Obituaries are Already Heaven

Some have said that the obituary section of the paper is one of the most well-read parts. Why? Are we all morbidly curious? No. The genealogist loves them because the obituaries provide so much historical and personal information. All in one place. And that is gold for the genealogist…

Every genealogist I know likes a good obituary. It isn’t that we like the fact that someone has died. Nope. That is not what a genealogy researcher wants at all. It’s about the facts, ma’am.

Where else can a genealogist find out so much about someone you don’t know? It is often the genealogy equivalent to winning lotto.

Don’t think we are morbid. Please. We’re not. We may be a little OCD when it comes to focus and getting the details, but when the genealogist looks for a family history and locates ancestors, that’s like the Powerball. Big winnings.

So what has happened to this genealogy researcher is this: I’ve come to read the obituaries very closely, every single day of the week.

In them, you see family jokes, family friends, and sometimes family enemies. You see where the person worked. Where they donated money. You sometimes see what they died from. There are lots of details for the genealogist. Obits list birthplaces and schools. The ancestor search can turn up lots from the local paper this way. Online obits are just as fulfilling but you can’t clip them, so this genealogist prefers the paper kind.

Take this morning. I read my local paper and my genealogy researcher glasses were on. This Sunday morning was particularly full. Sundays are that way because people know everyone is looking. For me, it is genealogist heaven. Three pages of them and way more details than I could imagine.betty crocker obit

I learned about a few  famous ones and a few young ones gone—so sad. I saw the outpouring of love for a few their families said were good men. And then, there were three, yes three, women who had just reached one hundred years. You really catch the trends!

I saw which European or Russian areas people came from and to where they came first and moved next. Some of those obituaries told every company the person had worked for which gave me a sort of genealogist business listing tour. I also saw maiden names and on some of them, names of companions. For the genealogist who is searching for LGBT people, today’s obituaries are providing lots more details than they used to. Far more than when things were all bungled up in secrets. Yet, there is still a bit of a code that the genealogist has to learn, as in discerning what “companion” and “friend” mean. Though some are trailblazing, not too many are putting in “husband” for a man’s spouse, yet.

And the last names. I have seen so many new and unusual last names. And when I find my family’s last names, even if I don’t know the person who died, I clip the obit and save it. Right to the file. This genealogist hopes to connect them all– someday.

I recall when my dad told me he was always reading the obits just in case he saw someone he knew. That was a decade ago and I chuckled. Guess what? Now, I read the obits right after I read the front page. Is it because I’m aging or because I’m a genealogist? When I recently had my newspapers held for a week, do you think this genealogist read the news in every one of those papers? No way! I  went right for the obits. Totally skipped the front page on most days. I just skimmed the whole paper till I got right to the obits and then I focused closely to see if I’d missed anyone I know, might know or might have a friend who knows.

That’s how it goes around here in genealogist heaven. We’re looking for the facts. And when we find ‘em—we put them in the family history researcher files. It is just so exciting. But every genealogist knows this already.

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