2014: The Year of the Obituaries

January 16, 2014  - by 

(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Which historical document contains the life story of an individual, possibly a picture, and a list of his or her closest relatives?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.

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  1. It has been my experience when indexing obits that the spouse of the son/daughter/child is the name in parentheses. Therefore in your example I would have indexed this as son; and Robin as daughter-in-law since it specifically says survived by son. Had it said her child I would have indexed Robin as child-in-law.

  2. In the Minnesota Prairieland Genealogical Society (Older) Obituaries, you can choose “relative” or “other relative” for the relationship with the deceased. I cannot find any instructions about when to use “relative” and when to use “other relative.”
    Or does it matter?

    Can anyone help me with this one?

  3. if the obit indicates the deceased had a wife, say Jane Doe, three sons, two daughters, three sisters and four brothers but no names given other than the wife’s. then do I just list an other-son- then blanks for name, and repeat for all of the above mentioned? It seems appropriate but have not read that circumstance anywhere.

  4. Why do the arbitrators keep changing my mother/father references to parent? Page 32 of the instructions is very clear. If the name is in parentheses it is a female and that is HER maiden name.

  5. How can the first record in a batch be a duplicate? Just asking I just arbitrated a batch the both indexers said the first batch was a duplicate.

    1. I’ve had that….I also had the previous batch so I knew it was a duplicate…
      however, I re-indexed it because it was a different batch…had my Stake Director look at both (I hadn’t submitted the previous one–because I wanted an opinion). she agreed that I had done it correctly….as it turned out I had found one person in the second one that was omitted from the first, therefore it wasn’t a duplicate…..I haven’t arbitrated any like that yet….

    2. If you have a two page obit and both pages are duplicated, you need to make the FIRST one of the first page a duplicate, the second as normal and then you can display (previous or next image) the FIRST copy of the second page and are able to easily add the info from the second page to the normal image.

  6. Can someone explain to me why someone known as Mrs. Joe Smith is not a daughter of her parents. The arbitrators keep changing my indexing from daughter to child. Why?

    1. That has been happening a lot lately. I’ve had numerous batches come back with that error along with changing father or mother to parent. Recently did quite a few of the old obits from Minnesota which I re-indexed all the same way. When they went thru arbitration approximately 70% were at 97 to 100% accurate. The others were in the 80’s and low 90% accurate. All of the errors were for things like that. Also they gave me errors for not indexing son-in-law when the survivor was listed as Mrs Joe Smith. I’ve come to the conclusion that accuracy depends totally on the luck of the draw and who happens to arbitrate the batch. I find it so frustrating that I only look at arbitration results about once a week and only after I’ve completed the number of batches I want to do for the day. If I checked daily I’m afraid I would become so discouraged that I’d give up indexing all together.

  7. Indexers and arbitrators: If you are working on obituaries there is NOT a record if there is not a deceased. I’m getting dinged because they index/arbitrate marriage records, birth records and second pages of two page obits where the first page is not available for indexing.

  8. I have recently started getting errors for how I am indexing the wife of the deceased. For example the deceased is James Smith, further along in the obit it says he married Susan Brown. Later in the obit it says he is survived by his wife, Susan. I have always indexed this as GN Susan Last name Brown. On several recent batches the last name has been changed to Brown Smith. I was sure you wanted assume she took her husband’s last name unless it specifically says that in the obit. Anyone have any thoughts on the correct way this should be indexed?

  9. Please read page 39 of the instructions on husband/wife or spouse Obit says blanche married Melvin E Carr. He is listed as HUSBAND in the indexed sample.

  10. Hi,

    I have a situation. I ran up on an obituary that mostly told a story from the decease life rather than the typical information you see on an obituary.

    It first listed her husband simply as David w/o last name. It’ll lists some more names and then list the husband’s full name, but not explicitly list him as husband, though you can tell from the context of the article, he’s the same David listed before. Do you make 2 different entries or just use all the information about David in one entry?

    Another situation, a daughter’s husband is simply listed as Butch and her last name is listed as Oswalt such as Lisa Marie Oswalt and her husband Butch. I know typically that would be 2 entries, but Butch Oswalt is listed among the pallbearers. Do I type an extra entry for Butch as a nonrelative or what?

    And last but not least, I had a daughter in law listed in the format, Lisa Marie Young and her husband, Michael. What relationship should I use for Michael? Since Michael wasn’t stated first, I’m going to assume he’s not the deceased son? Should I use nonrelative or son-in-law or son?

    Thanks for any help in advance,

  11. Thank you so much for all the additional training you provide. I want to do this work correctly, in order that it may be as useful as possible.

  12. How should we index the age of a child under the age of one? I haven’t seen instructions for this point in the PDF for obituaries, but I recall that for death certificates we round to the last year completed and enter a zero (0) for a child, say, six months old.

    1. Please refer to the field help notation for that item. It states that only full years are to be indexed. Therefore, any time period less that one year would be zero.

    1. It is very confusing when you first start but the more batches you do the easier it gets. When I first started it took me forever to complete a batch because I spent so much time going back to look at the instructions. Gradually it does become easier. I also found it helped to go back and read the older posts on this blog. Don’t get discouraged Now that I’ve been at this for several months I love doing the obits.

  13. If the batch you pull up says, for example, “West Virginia Obituaries,” can you put the state of death as West Virginia? Or does West Virginia actually HAVE to be mentioned in the body of the obituary?