2014: The Year of the Obituaries

January 16, 2014  - by 
Obituary Indexing Tip

(NOTE: As of May 1, 2014, item #8 in this article has been updated to match the new obituary project instructions. Click here for more details. Thank you for all your feedback!)

Which historical document contains the life story of an individual, possibly a picture, and a list of his or her closest relatives? You’ve got it! An obituary!

New U.S. obituary indexing projects have appeared over the past few months, and more are coming. As FamilySearch.org continues to focus on modern records that connect recent generations, these obituary records are going to be invaluable. Each one tells a life story, and many include photos. And they usually include relationships.

For FamilySearch indexing volunteers, obituaries provide an opportunity to create a high-quality, searchable index of hundreds of millions—possibly billions—of names from across the U.S. and the world. Indexing obituaries can be a bit tricky, though. Here are 12 vital indexing hints to guide you as you begin or continue to index obituaries.

  1. Read the entire obituary before indexing any names. Reading the entire obituary beforehand will help you know what information is available. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on the interesting stories in these obituaries!
  2. Index all documents that detail death information. Obituary collections may include a variety of death notices. You may end up indexing traditional obituaries, estate sale notices, reports of unidentified bodies being found, car accidents, and other newspaper articles. If documents contain death information, they need to be indexed.

    Disclaimer: Some of these documents give tragic death details and may not be suitable for young or tenderhearted indexers.
  3. Combine all information from the obituary onto the first image of the obituary—even if the obituary spans multiple images. There will probably be multiple obituaries in your batch. Some will span more than one image. Mark the first image of the obituary as Normal in the Image Type field, and then mark any additional images of the same obituary as a No Extractable Data Image. This will help keep secondary images from being marked as a new obituary. Click here to see an example.
  4. Index the deceased person first.
  5. Most obituaries don’t include an exact death date. Don’t try to determine which date is meant by statements such as “He died last Wednesday.” If a death date was not specifically indicated, use the most recent date on the document, which is often typed or handwritten next to the obituary.
  6. Only index towns, counties, states, or countries that are called out directly. Do not index locations such as “Galion Community Home” or assume that the community home really is in a city called “Galion.”
  7. Index the names of relatives and nonrelatives in the order they appear.
  8. Index the names of all individuals. If a person’s name included the name of a spouse or was indicated together with the name of the spouse, then index both names as separate records.
    For example, if an obituary lists “Mrs. Ben (Mary) Wilson” as a surviving daughter, you would index a record for Mrs Mary Wilson and then one for Ben Wilson. If the obituary instead said, “Mrs. Ben Wilson,” you would index a record only for Mrs Ben WilsonClick here to see more examples.
  9. Don’t assume surnames or genders. If people were listed without a surname, mark the Surname field blank. Do not assume that the surname of a relative is the same as the surname of the deceased.For genders, don’t base your assumptions only on the name. Look around the document. Is the person mentioned as a “he,” “her,” “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” or “father,” or referred to with any other words or phrases that are gender-specific? You can use those terms to determine a gender or gender-specific relationship. If you cannot determine the gender using clues on the document, don’t guess. Use gender-neutral options such as Child or Child-in-Law from the available relationship list.
  10. Select the closest relationship from the list. For example, if a relative was listed as a stepson or adopted son, index him as a Son. Consider how that individual would appear on a family tree, and index him or her that way.
  11. Add records as needed or mark unused records as blank. You should index every name on these documents (deceased, relatives and nonrelatives) as individual records. In most batches of obituaries, space is provided for the deceased and 10 other individuals. If there are fewer than 11 names included in the obituary, you will mark any unused records as blank by pressing Ctrl+Shift+B. If there are more than 11 names, you will need to add record entries. Click here for more information.
  12. Read the project instructions, field helps, and other training materials. This tip may be last, but it is certainly not least. The instructions and the in-depth guide include all of these tips and other important details about how to handle almost every situation you may encounter while indexing obituaries.

Use these tips as you start or continue to index these fascinating records. If you are still unsure of your indexing, personal help is available. You can contact your local stake indexing director, group administrator, or FamilySearch Support. To find their contact information, click the Help menu while you are using the indexing computer program, and then click Contact Support.

Latest posts by Katie Gale (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I have a new one. The decendents were listed as mom/grandma, brother/uncle. sister/aunt. What could I do except list them as relatives?

  2. Are we supposed to index pall bearers and what term do we use, If the name is the same as others in the report, I usually say “relative.”

    Please answer politely,

    thank you

  3. There seems to be conflicting instructions when indexing married women’s maiden names. Sometimes the instructions say to put the maiden name with the given name and other instructions say to put a woman’s maiden name on the line before her married surname. Which is correct?

  4. Let’s say image 1 and 2 are duplicates of each other, and image 3 is the second page of both image 1 and 2. One indexer indexes image 1 and the other indexer has done image 2. Both have incorporated image 3 info. Arbitrator’s dilemma because both are indexed correctly but must choose one to be marked “duplicate”.

  5. The data in a US obit to be extracted is city, county and state. If the obit states the birthplace is Manitoba Canada, do I enter “Manitoba Canada” or just Canada?

    1. Carly is wrong. Page 29 doesnt state anything about another country’s provinces and where to index them.

      Manitoba, Canada is the province not county.

      It should be indexed in the State Country field as: Manitoba Canada.

      Do us Canadians a favor and get it correct. If in doubt Google the location.

      1. Oh no I am so sorry! I did google the location and was still confused, that’s how I have indexed in the past: province as county and I got it right. Thank you April this makes more sense. I apologize for confusion!

  6. I’m finding it hard to complete these obituaries because I can’t change the page to “next page” when I get down to almost the end of the document. So have had to send the unfinished obituary back to others to complete. Please tell us how we can reach the other pages so we can finish the project. Many thanks, Joyce Nolan

    1. I’ve never heard of this problem. Does it happen on multiple batches? Call Support and see. I would maybe guess it’s a computer issue?

  7. The most confusing part of indexing obituaries is the inconsistency in the arbitration. This is especially a problem with assuming maiden names for women. When a woman’s name is Susan Smith Jones, it doesn’t not necessarily mean that Smith is the maiden name. There are many people who have a middle name that could be a surname in other circumstances. The instructions say to not make assumptions. If the parents are listed later in the obituary, with the surname/middle name in question, it is no longer assumption.

    However, the arbitration on this concept is inconsistent. It is very frustrating when the indexer is trying to follow the project instructions.

    1. Your post was well written. I see this a lot as an arbitrator in the work produced by indexers. For an indexer, they can get feedback if they check the arbitration results on the home page. The problem with this is that arbitration is over 7 million names behind, so that and indexer will probably not get feedback immediately. Correspondingly, arbitrators get feedback when an indexer looks at the results and requests a review of the arbitrators corrections, because they have not understood the rule. However, if the arbitration lags by quite a bit, then this mechanism is also of little value. If you have indexed over 4000 names, please contact your stake indexing director and request to become an arbitrator. I think the lag in arbitration is one of the key weaknesses in the quality check.

  8. I batch I am doing is named US, Obituaries-Missouri. They come from the St. Louis Post. However, nowhere in the obituary does it mention the death state. Do I leave that field blank or do I list Missouri?

    1. Leave blank unless it says the name of the state. It may say died in St Louis but the rules state that you do not index the state unless it would say for example St Louis, MO.

  9. The obit I am working on says, ” He is survived by his love Melissa, mother Carol Brown, father James (Ken) Brown, stepmother Carroll Brown . . . ” The logical explanation is that James Brown has been married previously to Carol and Carroll and is now married to Ken. My question is what do I do with Ken? I know we do not assume gender based on the name alone. The example on the right-hand side of page 14 of the instructions indicates that if you know the gender of the first person you can assume the gender of the name in parenthesis is the other gender and that they are a spouse, which means Ken should be indexed as Mother. Now that same-gender marriage is legal in so many states it seems that no gender assumption of the name in parenthesis should be made. What relationship would you give Ken?

    1. You gave an excerpt of the obit, but it is also possible that the newspaper you are looking at put his nickname in parentheses rather than quotes as is normally done. I usually check the full obit or other obits before making a judgement.

  10. Many pages have a search engine for use for that specific question. I read and re-read the basic information but sometimes am still unable to find my specific answer. I usually learn something each time I read it but then when it comes up again I have forgotten what I read. I am an experienced indexer and am now working with my daughter so I try to make sure my answers to her are correct. I know there are specific answers to foster children, god children, Catholic sisters and so forth but when I come across them I have forgotten exactly how to index them. Could a search engine be provided within the basic guidelines so I can find my answer when I need it? I have done a lot of training throughout the years and know that when your question is specific you retain the answer because your mind is on that thing right then. Thank you for all your help and for helping me get back into indexing again.

  11. I appreciate much that is done with these obituaries but I do question a few of the methods for extracting.

    As I read through the obit. I notice 2 things, typically if a name is not given it is assumed to be the same BECAUSE why put it there redundantly, rather than the thought that it must not be the same or they would have put it in. Not placing a last name to me is misreading the document entirely.

    The other situation I’m finding is that of the junior/senior dilemma. If Mr. Smith had 2 sons, typically the first is a junior. To add to the confusion, the father of the deceased has the same name as well and often brothers, and cousins.

    There often is only one or two details that differentiate them, one being their place of residence, the other the preceded in death. To me these are vital pieces of information for researchers, because now they have a new place to search, respectively, in the other city or place mentioned, and whether a previous record can now be searched for for more information.

    Why leave out these crucial details and why strike the names under unnecessary scrutiny when it’s obvious after reading records from all over the country that the norm is to assume the last names are the same unless proven otherwise because it is simply convention to save space where needed in a newspaper article. This is common sense to me. The other way is counter intuitive and leaves to much to be questioned. After all, most sons of Mr. Smith (for example) would have the same last name even if they aren’t mentioned, if they aren’t the same they ARE mentioned as being different.

    It would help my understanding to review this policies, it is distressing to me to leave these vital records only partially extracted.

    In every other sense this program is entirely to exciting and helpful. Thank you for all you do!

  12. here are many people who have a middle name that could be a surname in other circumstances. The instructions say to not make assumptions. If the parents are listed later in the obituary, with the surname/middle name in question, it is no longer assumption.