AncestryDNA Works Toward Genetics + Genealogy Integration

 

AncestryDNA Review GEDCOM DNA integrationThe ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.

The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.

I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.

For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.

With one exception.

AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product.  They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.

So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?

This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies.  I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party.  As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.

After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.

Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.

In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”

Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.

But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?

“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.

“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.

And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.

What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.

Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.

Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.

With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who might be on your pedigree chart.

Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?

As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.

Genetic Genealogy and DNAIn coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”

And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.

Planting Your Master Genealogy Family Tree

In this post I’m going to answer common questions about the best strategy for creating and maintaining your family tree data. 

master family tree

Should I build my family tree online?

This is a question I get in various forms quite often from Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners. But there’s really more to this question than meets the eye. Today’s family historian needs a master game plan for how they will not only build their family tree, but where they will build it, and where they will share it.

On the podcast I describe it this way:

Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.

I’m going to explain what I mean by this by starting at the beginning.

When You Start Your Family Tree

If you’re new to researching your family’s history, you probably started out with one of the big genealogy websites, such as AncestryMyHeritageFindmypast, or FamilySearch. I refer to them as the Genealogy Giants because they have millions of genealogical records, and they offer you the tools to build your family tree on their website. (Learn more about what each of the Genealogy Giants websites have to offer here in this handy comparison guide.)

These sites make it easy to start entering information about yourself, your parents, and your grandparents either on their website or through their mobile app. But should you do that?

My answer is, “not so fast!” Let’s think through the long-term game plan for this important information that is your family’s legacy.

Family is Forever

Genealogy is a hobby that lasts a lifetime. It’s nearly impossible to run out of ancestors or stories to explore.

But have you noticed that websites don’t last forever? And even if they do, their services and tools will undoubtedly change over time.

And there are many, many genealogy websites out there. A large number of them will encourage you or even require you to start creating an online family tree on their site in order to get the most value from the tools that they offer for your research.

As you work with these different genealogy websites, you may start to feel like your tree is getting scattered across the web. It’s easy to find yourself with different versions of your tree, unsure of which one is the most accurate and complete version.

It’s this inevitable situation that leads to my conclusion that you build and protect a master version of your family tree. I’m not suggesting that you can’t or shouldn’t use an online tree. In fact, regardless of whether you do, you need a “Master Family Tree.”

Plant Your “Master Family Tree” in Your Own Backyard

What do I mean when I say that you should plant your “master family tree” in your own backyard? I’m talking about using a genealogy database software program that resides on your own computer. Let’s explore that further.

A master family tree has three important characteristics:

  1. It is owned and controlled by you.
  2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.
  3. It is protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.
master family tree

Your Master Family Tree

1. Your master family tree is owned and controlled by you.

If you create an online family tree on a genealogy website (or in the case of FamilySearch’s global online tree, you add your information to it) you have given final control of that information to the company who owns the website.

In order to own and control your tree, you will need a genealogy database software program installed on your own computer. I use RootsMagic (and I’m proud to have them as a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems Podcast) but there are other programs as well.

A genealogy database software program is installed on your computer. The program and the data you enter into it belongs to you and is under your personal control.

Genealogy databases allow you to not only easily enter data, but also to export it. If you wish to use a different program later, or add your existing data to an online tree, you can export your family tree data as a universally accepted GEDCOM file. (Learn more about GEDCOM files in this article.)

2. It is the final say on what you currently know about your family tree.

As you research your family tree, you will come to important conclusions, such as an ancestor’s birthdate or the village in which they were born. It can take a while to prove your findings are accurate, but once you do, you need one location in which to keep those findings. And most importantly, you must be able to cite the sources for that information. That one location for all this activity is your genealogy database.

However, the nature of genealogy research is that it can take some digging to prove the information is correct. During the process of that research you may find information that you aren’t sure about, and it can be helpful to attach it to the online tree that you have at the same website where you found the information. That gives you a way to hang on to it and keep researching. You can always remove it later. We’ll talk more about strategies for using online family trees a little bit later.

Once you are convinced that the information is correct, then its final resting place is your Master Family Tree. You enter the information and add source citations. This way, whenever you need an accurate view of where you are in your completed family tree research, you can turn to one location: your genealogy database software and the Master Family Tree it contains.

3. It’s protected with online backup to ensure it is safe.

Your family tree isn’t safe unless the database file is backed up to the cloud.

Who among us hasn’t had a computer malfunction or die?

It isn’t good enough to simply back up your computer files to an external hard drive, because that external hard drive is still in your house. If your house is damaged or burglarized, chances are both will be affected.

Another problem with backing up to an external hard drive is that they can malfunction and break. And of course, there is the problem of remembering to back it up on a regular basis.

Cloud backup solves all these problems by backing up your files automatically and storing them safely in an offsite location. 

Cloud backup is actually very simple to install and requires no work on your part once it’s up and running. (We’ve got an article here that will walk you through the process.)

There are many cloud backup services available. I use Backblaze (which you can learn more about here). As a genealogist I have a checklist of features that are important to me, and Backblaze checked all the boxes.

Regardless of which service you choose the important thing is to not wait another day to set it up. This protection is a critical part of your Master Family Tree plan.

Using Online Family Trees

Now that you have your own database on your own computer that is backed up to the cloud for protection, let’s talk about strategic ways that you can use online family trees.

First, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to create a tree on a genealogy website just because they prompt you to do so. While there are benefits for you to doing so, the company who owns that website actually benefits tremendously as well.

In today’s world, data is very valuable. I encourage you to read the terms of service and other fine print (I know, it’s boring!) because it will explain the ownership and potential use of that data.

While it’s not the focus of this article, it’s important to understand that other industries are interested in family history data, and data may be shared or sold (with or without identifying information, depending on the terms).

But as I say, there are benefits to using online family trees. These benefits include:

  • Hints – Online family trees generate research hints on the Genealogy Giants websites and some of the other websites that offer trees.
  • Cousin Connection – Online family trees offer you an opportunity to possibly connect with other relatives who find your tree.
  • DNA – Online family trees can now dovetail with your DNA test results (if you took a test with the company where your tree resides). This can offer you additional research avenues.

These benefits can be helpful indeed. However, problems can arise too. They include:

  • Copying – When you tree is public other users of the website can copy and redistribute your information including family photos.
  • Errors – If you discover an error in your tree, you may fix it, but chances are it has already been widely copied and distributed by other users.
  • Email – If you have your entire tree online and your email notifications are active, you may receive an onslaught of hints for people in your tree. Often these are very distant cousins that you are not actively researching. And let’s face it, the emails can be annoying and distract your focus from your targeted research. For example, as of this writing at Ancestry.com you can’t select which ancestors you want to receive email hint notifications for. You can only select hints for the entire tree.

So, let’s review my strategy:

Plant your tree in your own backyard and share branches online.

Now that you’ve planted your tree in your own backed up software, let’s explore the ways in which you can share branches online.

Targeted Online Family Trees

Many people don’t realize that you don’t have to add your entire tree to a website. You can just add parts of your tree.

For example, I may just put my direct ancestors in my tree (grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth). This can still be a fairly larger number of people. I may want to include their siblings because they grew up in the same household. But I can leave out the far-reaching branches and relatives that really don’t have a direct impact on that line of research.

You can also have multiple trees that focus on specific areas of your research that are important to you.

Exploratory Online Family Trees

Some genealogists also create trees that represent a working theory that they have. This type of tree can help expose where the problems or inaccuracies lie. As you research the theory and as hints arise it can become very clear that a relationship does not exist after all.

An exploratory tree is an excellent reminder that we can’t and shouldn’t make assumptions about someone’s intent or purpose with their online tree. I’ve heard from many people who are angry about inaccuracies they find in other people’s trees. But we can’t know their purpose, and therefore, it really isn’t our place to judge.

However, it is a fair argument that a good practice would be to clearly mark these exploratory trees accordingly to deter other users from blindly copying and replicating the inaccurate information. An easy way to do this is in the title or name of the tree. For example, a tree could be titled “Jonas Smith Tree UNPROVEN”.

Creating multiple, limited trees can be an effective strategy for conducting targeted online research that only generates hints and connections for those ancestors that you are interested in at the current time.

And remember, you can remove any of your trees at any time. For example, you can delete an exploratory tree that has served its purpose and helped you prove or disprove a relationship.

Plan Now for Success

A family tree can seem like a simple thing, but as you can see there’s more to it than meets the eye. A bit of planning now can ensure that your family tree stays healthy and growing. 

About the Author

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Newspaper Obituaries for Genealogy – Episode 73

This week in Elevenses with Lisa episode 73 we are talking obituaries and the important role they can play in your genealogy. Obituaries can reveal a lot of really interesting and helpful information about your ancestors! My guest is Shannon Combs-Bennett, the author of the article A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding and Using Historical Obituaries published in Family Tree Magazine

newspaper obituaries for genealogy

Episode 73

In Elevenses with Lisa episode 73 Lisa Louise Cooke and Shannon Combs-Bennett will discuss:

  • The backstory on obituaries (which is vital to understand about any genealogical record)
  • what they can tell you about your ancestors
  • where you can find them both online and offline
  • and strategies you can use when they aren’t where you expected to find them.

Episode 73 Show Notes 

(Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)

Lisa: I think of obituaries as being such a cornerstone of the work that we do. It’s often one of the first places people start, right?

Shannon: Yeah, it is, they’re pretty accessible for most people. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper, though the further back in time you go. But they seem to be one of the basic, I guess you could call staples, bread and butter type documents that genealogists try to find.

Type of Death Records Found in Newspapers

(01:28) Lisa: Exactly. And we typically find them in newspapers. So, I’d love to start there. Because obituaries are not the only kind of death record we’re finding in newspapers, right?

Shannon: There are actually several different types of death records published in a newspaper.

Obituaries
Of course the obituaries, which are the most common.

Funeral Announcements
You can also have funeral announcements. So, you might not get the obituary, but maybe you can find the announcement that this funeral home is servicing this family or that this wake will occur at such and such place, or the religious ceremony will occur at this church with graveside services.

Card of Thanks
In addition to that, you sometimes can find what were called for a long time card of thanks where families would put articles in the newspaper, essentially, in the advertisement and personal sections, thanking people for coming and participating in the service of their loved one. 

So, there’s a wide variety of different types of information. And if you don’t know it’s there, you don’t know to go look for it.

Coroner Inquests 
Lisa: Exactly. I remember I was doing some newspaper research in the British Newspaper Archives, from my husband’s family. I didn’t find a death notice, but there was an entire coroner’s inquest published in the newspaper! And I didn’t realize that we could find something like that. So, it’s wonderful to see the depth of the kinds of information that surround the death of a person that could be found in newspapers.

Shannon: And those aren’t as common here in the United States. But if your loved one died in a larger city, you can sometimes find (coroner inquests) in the newspapers. I was doing some research and found in from San Francisco, and they have published books of coroner’s inquests, so they’re not in newspapers, but the announcement was in the newspaper that there was an inquest. Then I was able to go to the library and thankfully they were all digitized. I found them online where I would find all sorts of information about the person, their family, the circumstances of their death. And if you’re doing family medical histories, sometimes those can be real gold mines.

The History of Obituaries

(4:03) Lisa: So, let’s take a moment and talk about the history of obituaries. Because, as you know, when we understand the history of any kind of genealogical record, then we do a lot better job of utilizing it. Please give us a little bit of a background story on obituaries. How long have they been around?

 Colonial Times
Shannon: You can find obituaries in even some of the earliest colonial newspapers here in the United States. Sometimes they were passing through an area and died. Or you might see information that someone had died abroad and there might be a little note in the newspaper.

Early 19th Century
In the early 1800s you can see themes developing around newspaper obituaries. (And sometimes if it was a very important person to the community you’ll be more than likely to find it.) These early newspaper obituaries don’t always have a lot of family information, but you’ll find all sorts of virtuous prose written about them where they were talking about how godly and worthy they were and those types of things.

Then the obituary started to morph and actually became a part of the personal and advertisement section of the newspaper. So, one reason you may not find information in an obituary for your ancestor is because your family didn’t have the money to pay for the obituary to put be put in. And then if they weren’t a real prominent person, they wouldn’t get the prime real estate in the actual reading sections. So, yeah, if your family were on the poor side, you might not find anything about them, unfortunately.

20th Century
(06:06) And then, as the 20th century came in these started to evolve from a celebration of death to a celebration of people’s accomplishments. You start finding late 1800s into the early 20th century is how the obituary as we know it today started to evolve. It went from maybe one or two lines about a person dying to three and four paragraphs about them, their families, especially if they had, you been a pensioner or veteran, or a pioneer of a town, the early 20th century saw a lot of those people who had really struck it out west for their fame and fortune start passing away in those towns. Sometimes you would even find the obituary, not only in the place where they died, but in their hometowns back further to the east. You might find obituaries, especially for those pioneering folk you could call them, back where they came from.

Lisa: That’s a great point. And that’s really kind of a nice newspaper research tip that expands beyond obituaries. It’s that idea that people often started back east, but then relocated out west, and particularly with the telegraph coming into play, they could send that article back to where they came from and get it to all those people who would be interested to know whatever happened to that person.

Shannon: Right.

21st Century
Now in the 21st century we’re moving more and more away from print newspapers for the obituaries. We’re going to almost completely digital newspapers for the obituaries and digital obituary sites. I’ve had several of my close family members in the last 10 years who have passed away, and the funeral homes are offering to put obituaries on their websites. And when my mother passed away, I was speaking with the funeral home director, and they had kept records. This was in Texas. And they had records going back several decades with written obituaries that, if you called the funeral home, you could see if they had one written up. It was not even necessary published in the paper, because the family couldn’t afford it. But the funeral home had it.

Lisa: How interesting!

It really drives home the point that you’ve got to know what kind of timeframe you’re looking at right to see what you can find and where you’d expect to find it.

Obituaries in Small vs. Large Cities

(08:48) I would imagine it’s true that in small towns, you might be more likely to find obituaries then perhaps let’s say in Chicago.

Shannon: Yeah, because you know, everybody knows everybody, in a small hometown. Those would be more likely to have the longer, more in depth information written about a person talking about their family, and where they came from, what they did, if they were the pillar of a community, or even just a local farmer.

And then in the cities, unless you were a prominent citizen, that’s where you’re more than likely to find a paragraph or less, maybe only even a few sentences: first and last name, age, died on this date, and maybe that’s all you get, unfortunately.

Where to Find Obituaries in Old Newspapers

(09:39) Lisa: Let’s talk about where to find these Historical Newspapers. Where do we start?

Shannon: Okay. Well, there are a lot of different newspapers online.

Chronicling America at the Library of Congress
Of course, the Library of Congress Chronicling America is a great start. See if they have one of the local newspapers for the place that you’re researching for the timeframe your ancestors were there. Start there because it’s free – you got to start with the free resources first.

FamilySearch
Family search also has a free obituary, historical obituary site that you can search. (Ed. Note: this link will take you to a resource page at the FamilySearch Wiki which includes many links to sources for obituaries.)

And then you can move into the paid / subscription websites such as:

(Disclosure: Thank you for using these affiliate links. We will be compensated if you make a purchase and that helps support this content which we make available for free.)

(Ed. Note: Of course there are many other websites featuring obituaries, and some are niche websites unique to their location. Google searching can help you locate these resources. Learn more about my strategies for strategic googling here.)

Obituaries at Libraries

(10:36) Sometimes you can also contact the local library for the place the person had died. I’m originally from Indiana, and I’ve had good luck calling around to the various county libraries. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of the newspapers digitized. But for a small fee, they were willing to send me a photocopy. And in some cases, now I can get email PDFs for a few dollars. I like to support the local library, so I’m okay with doing that. Because our local libraries need a lot of support.

Don’t give up if you can’t find it digitized, is what I’m trying to say. There’s a lot of information to be found, and there are a lot of places out there, especially for older newspapers. Be resourceful I guess you could say.

Obituary Indexes

(11:29) Lisa: You talked about online indexes. So sometimes we don’t get the actual obit but we could get enough information out of the index that we could then go track it down in person.

Shannon: Yeah, that’s very true. I’ve used those several times. One of the links that is in the article is to the Dayton, Ohio index. And you can put in as much information as you know. Sometimes I find it’s easier to start with a little bit of information, and then sort through and add details to weed through the large number. But all it will give you is the person’s name and the date of publication, so not even the date of death (so you know it’s somewhere in that timeframe) and then the page, issue, column number so that you can contact the Dayton Public Library, and they can help get you the paper. And a lot of the libraries are like that.

Obituary Search Strategies

(12:29) Lisa: When you do online searches for obituaries, do you tend to just go straight in and do a search on the name? Or do you go into the card catalog and find newspaper and obituary collections first and then try to search? Do you have any special tactics that you use to try to make sure you’re successful?

Shannon: That’s actually a really great question. It depends. If I have a really unique name and I am pretty sure of the location, maybe timeframe of the death, sometimes I’ll just start looking for that person. Especially like I said, if it’s a really unique name.

Unique Names
I had an ancestor named Bathsheba Kelly. I’m thinking there’s not many people named Bathsheba. So I was pretty confident maybe if I just started looking for her by name and the timeframe she died in Ohio, we’d be good to go.

Other times, yeah, I first want to narrow it down by collection because you don’t want to just go searching willy nilly, right? That’s going to waste a lot of time. Try to find like a five year, maybe a 10 year span. If you’re not quite sure, having a timeframe will help weed them down.

Common Names
If it’s a common name, you need to add in a lot more. Maybe those advanced searches. It may take you going town by town, or year by year as you go wading through all the names.

Indexes
If there is an index for the database I do like to use those first because that can help weed out a lot of information right off the bat.

Printing
Print it out, write it down, keep it on a separate browser tab or whatever you need to do so that you can methodically keep track of your search.  That can really help. Don’t give up!

Obituary Publishing Timeframes

(14:54) Lisa: I know I had an experience once where I was searching a weekly newspaper in California on microfilm, and I knew that obituaries were always on page seven, because I’ve just had been through so many issues of this particular newspaper. I looked at the obituary column in the next issue following the death of my great grandfather, and he wasn’t there. And I was like, What? I looked at the next week and he wasn’t there, and I went back a week. I wondered if maybe I got the date wrong. It turned out his obituary was on the front page! And that goes back to us saying that some people were kind of considered the pioneer of their town, even though in the family, he wasn’t Mr. Celebrity or anything, but he was revered for that. And they had him on the front page.

I’d love to have you touch on when you don’t see them where you think you’re going to see them. And what’s the timing of when we could expect to see their obituary published? And do you have any other tips on when they’re not where you think they’ll be? What are the kinds of places within the paper where you tend to find these kinds of articles?

Shannon: Yeah, that’s actually a really good question. Again, it depends. Like you said, even if you don’t think that your family member was someone famous, if you’re not finding the obituary where you expect to find it, try going through the newspaper cover to cover.

Sometimes if your ancestor died in mysterious circumstances, there might not be an obituary, but there might be an article about a court case. So that’s always a good thing to know. Because those death records, especially if it was salacious gossip, is going to turn up somewhere.

Lisa: It’s newsworthy.

Shannon: That’s right. If it’s newsworthy, it’s going to be in there.

Where Obituaries are Located in a Newspaper

(16:46) I was recently doing some research on professional genealogists. I wanted to find out when genealogists became a profession here in the United States. I figured if an obituary of a professional genealogist told me they were 80 years old and when they died, then I can kind of backtrack to when, they started became a professional. I did not find these obituaries in the late 1800s where I thought they should be. Sometimes they were in the Personal section. Sometimes they were in the miscellaneous advertisement section. But then once again, it goes back to somebody had to pay the newspaper to put this in it. So, they wouldn’t be in these larger newspapers. I was looking at like the New York Times, The Hartford newspaper, the Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. I wasn’t finding these obituary pages for them. I was finding obituaries in the Personal section, which kind of threw me for a loop a little bit.

Lisa: You kind of have to follow the money, right?

Shannon: Yeah.

Lisa: It’s so interesting that you’re talking about the history of genealogists, because I remember, quite a few years ago, I went to the census records. I started searching on genealogist as an occupation or the industry. That’s really interesting too to see who was doing it 100 years ago.

Obituaries were not always published the very next week after a person’s death, right?

Shannon: Right. A lot of people think that they are. I guess 1) it depends on the religion and the culture that you’re looking at –  what was done in that time frame. Or 2) it depends on the place. This might sound kind of odd to some of us who don’t live in really cold places, but when the ground freezes in our northern most states sometimes you wouldn’t be able to bury somebody until the next spring. And, and you may have a death notice when they died, but then a full obituary for when the service and the burial took place. So sometimes you may have several months gap in between when they died, and when information was published about them in the newspaper.

The other thing maybe, especially if they were in business, or if they traveled, or if they were in the military, they could have died abroad. So, you’re only going to hear the information see the death notice or the obituary when the ship lands.

Information Found in Obituaries

(20:00) Lisa: Before I let you go, I’d love to have you talk about the Obituary Fast Facts section in your article. What are some of the interesting facts and little bits that you want to share with us?

Shannon: Sure! Well, some of the things that you can find in an obituary can be surprising. As genealogists, we want to find all the family information we can. We want to know when they were born, who their parents were, if possible, family members, that type of thing. But other things that you can find in obituaries are :

Employment Information
employment information, which can then give you clues as to where else they might have been.

Migration Information
If they were a migrant, to that area, it can give you information, you know, where they originated from. If they immigrated to the Untied States, sometimes they list that they landed at the port of Philadelphia, or New York, or New Orleans, or wherever. And that can help lead information for passenger lists and future information.

Associated People
But most importantly, people who are listed in the obituary have to be somebody known to the deceased person, either a friend or a family, or a close acquaintance. I want to encourage people to not forget those associate people and collateral lines, because you might be able to find information about your ancestor while researching them.

Lisa: Great point! 

About Shannon Combs-Bennett

(21:30) Shannon, tell folks a little bit more about yourself and what you do.

Shannon: I’m an author, lecturer, and an educator, full time student – a perpetual student is what my father would call me. You can find me at my blog, which is Trials and Tribulations of a Self-Taught Family Historian. You can also find me on Facebook and LinkedIn and on Twitter, I’m not I’m not on Twitter as much as I used to be. I’ve spoken all across the United States. I’ve even spoken internationally in Scotland and in France for the Heraldic and Genealogical Congress. But I think that’s because I come from a background of teachers. I love educating, writing, lecturing and helping people learn more information about their pasts and about who they are and who their families were. It doesn’t hurt that my undergraduate degree was in human genetics. So sometimes I can throw a little bit of that DNA in there.

Lisa: Thank you so much for being on the show!

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Comments

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