Finding obituaries in newspapers is one of the many tools researchers use on a regular basis. In my experience, obituaries are a valuable tool as they are usually full of information about a person and their family.
When I find an obituary, I will do my usual document “intake.” I scan the article to my computer, add source citation to the digital document, transcribe the obituary to a word document, add any information to my genealogy software, again add source citations to each fact, file the digital document in the correct folder, and then add any to-do items to my research log.
I think the last step is the most important (besides citing my sources of course). An obituary is only as accurate as the person who supplies the information. I have found several obituaries with incorrect or biased information. I say biased because the informant wanted to paint a “better” picture than reality. Some people just don’t know information and some purposely misinform.
I use an obituary as a clue for each piece of information contained in the article. Every piece of information needs to be checked and verified against other sources.
I recently found an obituary in the Hutchinson Daily New, Hutchinson, Kansas for my maternal grandfather. He passed away in California. The obituary probably ran in the local Kansas paper since my grandmother’s family lived in this town. The obituary had many incorrect facts relating to my grandfather including his age, cause of death, and the names of his two youngest children.
I am lucky because I have several other sources that confirm the correct information for the mistakes made in the obituary. It is an important lesson to be aware that sources with secondary information are not always accurate.
I use my research log to not only list my research “finds” but also my “need to find.” As I analyze a document, I list each source that I need to get my hands on to confirm each fact that I have identified. Having two small children has done a number on my memory. The research log allows me to always remember to follow up and deal with any conflicting information.