Volunteer Gem: He Indexed Milwaukee Journal Obituaries Himself!

my ancestor in the newspaper newsRecently we received this inspiring story from Brian Zalewski, a longtime Genealogy Gems podcast listener. He found a valuable genealogy resource and made it easier for others to access. Thank you, Brian!

“Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking for death listings in the archive of The Milwaukee Journal on Google News. These entries are usually so small (or too bad of quality) that they don’t get picked up by the character-recognition software….This means you can’t search for [ancestors’ names in them via OCR]. Also, depending on the date of the paper, the death may be recorded in a normal obituary, a full article (like my great-great grandfather, fortunately), a tiny single-line burial permit, or a small death notice.

“I decided to start recording all of the deaths I can find. I try to note the date, individual’s name, paper, type of record, age, and address. So far, I’ve recorded over 1000 entries (some duplicates due to similar entries on multiple days), mainly from the years of 1884, 1885 and 1910.

“The benefit of doing this is two-fold. This data will be recorded and searchable for everyone, and I will probably find information on my family somewhere. Also, who knows how long Google will keep the archives online. These papers are available elsewhere on microfilm, etc, but I’ll do what I can when I can.

“I have also spent some time adding a few helpful features. Within the details of a death entry, you can automatically search for the individual in a few burial index sites. Currently, this includes the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries burial index, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves. The search, while helpful, is not perfect. I can only search using the information included in the entry. Sometimes this does not work if the name is spelled differently in both places, though you can always tweak the search variables once you’re at the indexing site. If I happened to find a matching entry from one of those sites, that URL is now linked directly from the entry. The entry will also be flagged with the little headstone icon.

“Currently, it’s not a massive database, but it’s constantly growing. Hopefully it will be helpful to somebody with research in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.” Click here to search his database of Milwaukee Journal obituaries.

Want to learn more about searching for obituaries in newspapers? Click to read the blog posts below:

Happy Independence Day!

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