12 Things You Can Find in Obituaries

Paul McClellan obituariesRecently I decided to learn more about my great-uncle Paul McClellan, my grandfather’s brother. After World War II, Paul left his Idaho hometown for Pennsylvania. Surviving relatives know hardly anything of his life or family.

The census only takes me through 1940 and he lived through the 1970s. Pennsylvania vital records are pretty tight-lipped. So almost immediately, I found myself looking for obituaries.

Our online community tree at FamilySearch told me when and where he died. I emailed the local history and genealogy contact at the public library in that town. I heard back within a day and had this obituary within a week.

I’ve seen a lot of detailed obituaries. But perhaps because I’m so thirsty for information on Paul, the level of detail in this obituary made me especially happy. I see his:

  1. Age
  2. Street address
  3. Hospital where he died and length of stay there
  4. Birthplace and age
  5. Parents’ names, including mother’s maiden name
  6. Employer and retirement date
  7. Membership in local civic organizations
  8. WWII Army veteran status
  9. Surviving widow’s name, including maiden name
  10. Names, spouses and residences of surviving siblings
  11. Name of funeral home and officiator of funeral
  12. Cemetery name

Wow! Some of these details confirmed that I had the right guy: his age, birth data, relatives’ names. Others open new avenues of research for me. I’ve already started following leads to the civic organizations, funeral home and cemetery.

You know, what is NOT said in this obituary may also prove important as I continue my research on Paul. First, there are no surviving children or grandchildren listed. This disappoints me as I was told he did have children by at least one previous marriage. If he did have children, the informant (his widow?) either didn’t know about them or didn’t choose to mention them. Second, the informant did know a lot about Paul’s kin. Maybe Paul and his wife didn’t totally lose touch with the folks back home–it just seems so years later.

Have you worked much with obituaries? Do you know how to find them? Learn more in Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, available in print or as an e-book. There’s an entire chapter on online digitized newspaper collections, and one on online resources for finding newspapers (either online or offline). Yet another chapter is devoted to African American newspapers. This book will teach you to find all those elusive obituaries–and plenty more mentions of your family in old newspapers.

Prison Inmate Photos: “The Eyes Are Everything”

Matt from Omaha, Nebraska (U.S.) recently told me about a project his cousin is working on that is so cool the story was picked up by U.S.A. Today.

Prison Memory

While poking around at an 1800s-era Iowa prison about to be torn down, Mark Fullenkamp came across boxes of old glass negatives. Upon closer inspection, he found they were intake photos of the inmates. Some were 150 years old!

Mark first set out to digitize and reverse the negative images of over 11,000 prison inmate photos. Others gradually became involved, like scholars at University of Iowa where he works and even inmates at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women. A doctoral candidate who was interviewed by U.S.A. Today says she’s struck by the moment these photos were taken: when their lives were about to change forever. Though many look tough for the camera (and presumably the other inmates), she sees a lot of emotion in their expressions: “The eyes are everything.”

Now Fullekamp’s team is trying to connect names and stories with the photos. It’s not easy, but many of the pictures have inmate numbers on them. Some files have surfaced with inmate numbers and names in them. Others are stepping forward with memories.

Read more about the project on Matt’s blog.

Got a digital photo archiving project of your own? Click here to learn about a free ebook published by the Library of Congress on digital archiving.

NEW! Nova Scotia and South African Genealogy Records on FamilySearch

Among the 3.7 million+ records new on FamilySearch this week are two updates that caught my eye for international regions that need more record sets online:

Nearly 1.4 million images are now browsable in a newly-posted collection of Nova Scotia, Canada, probate records dating from 1760-1993.  According to FamilySearch, “This collection includes records of probate proceedings from Nova Scotia. The records include estate files, inventories, wills, administrations and other records related to probate. Most of the records are dated from 1800-1940, but coverage varies by area.”

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Nearly 400,000 digitized parish registers for the Church of the Province of South Africa (1801-2004) have now been indexed. FamilySearch describes the collection as “digital images and partial index of parish registers of the ‘Church of the Province of South Africa.’ Since 2006, the church has been officially known as the ‘Anglican Church of Southern Africa.’ Original records are contained within the collection of the William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The Church presently includes dioceses in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Saint Helena, South Africa and Swaziland. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.”

I hope these datasets can help your South African genealogy or help you find your Nova Scotia kin.

The First Daily Newspaper in the US Wasn’t Exactly Objective

historical newspapers

A selection of American newspapers from 1885, with portraits of their publishers. Original image at the Library of Congress, no known restrictions. Digital image from Wikipedia (click to view).

The first daily newspaper in the US, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, appeared in Philadelphia on this day in 1783. It was short-lived as a daily, but gained traction as a semi-regular paper by 1775. How did publisher Benjamin Towne make it work? By not having a lick of journalistic objectivity, apparently.

“Towne was able to survive through the War for Independence by supporting the side in power,” says this post at FamousDaily.com. “In 1775 his Evening Post was vocal in opposition to the British; but when Philadelphia was occupied briefly by the British troops, Towne welcomed them with open arms. Then when the Patriots took back the city, Towne published a special ‘patriotic’ edition of his paper in honor of their return.”

What a great story! His success heralded more to come. According to a post at the U.S. Census website, “Americans’ hunger for news was such that by 1850, there were some 250 dailies. The number of newspapers peaked around a hundred years ago, when there were 2,600 dailies published across the nation, with a circulation of over 24 million.”

Available at http://genealogygems.com

Newspapers are one of the best places to learn more about our ancestors’ everyday lives, their vital events and happenings that affected them. Learn more in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Here you’ll find inspiring stories about what’s IN newspapers, step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free and worth-a-few bucks online resources, and a massive amount of location-specific websites for international and U.S. historical newspapers.

 

 

Getting the scoop from old newspapersWould you rather learn by watching? Genealogy Gems Premium members and subscribing genealogy societies can enjoy Lisa’s two-part video series, “Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers.”  You’ll learn what key family history information may be found in historical newspapers; how to identify newspapers that likely covered your ancestors; websites that have digitized collections of newspapers; Lisa’s top search tips and cool tech tools; how to use Evernote in your newspaper research; and more about African-American Newspaper Research (bonus download!). Genealogy Gems for Societies Video Classes

Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership, and (NEW!) click here to see how your genealogy society can watch these and other Premium videos at their meetings!

 

Easy Family History Craft: Framed Ornaments

ornament brandedLooking for a quick and easy craft to do? My mom made these cute ornaments for volunteers who work in the genealogy room of the public library with her.

These little framed photos of the volunteers’ ancestors would make fantastic ornaments to hang on a holiday tree or–year-round as my mother-in-law does–on a decorative metal family tree.

All you need are copies of old ancestral photos and these basic supplies:

  • inexpensive wood or paper mache cutout frames, which you can purchase at craft stores;
  • tape or craft glue to adhere the picture to the back of the frame;
  • silver spray paint (or any other paint suitable for the frame surface, with a brush);
  • Mod-Podge or another acrylic sealer (optional) to protect and further adhere the front of the ornament;
  • decorative ribbon or string to use as ties.

This would be an easy family history craft to produce in bulk, and it’s inexpensive! Consider making them for your own family history display or for family gifts. This is a great project for kids to do, as it should turn out looking nice even with young or inexperienced crafters.

large_thumb_tack_800_16520Looking for more great family history-themed craft or display ideas?  Follow Lisa Louise’s board Family History Craft Projects on Pinterest or Follow Lisa Louise’s board Kids – Genealogy and Family History on Pinterest.

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