3 Powerful Ways Obituaries Can Help You Expand Your Family Tree

April 10, 2015  - by 

“The venerable John Adams, late President of the United States, one of the ablest and most efficient advocates and supporters of the Revolution, an original signer of the Declaration of Independence, a patriot and statesman, whose career was full of honor, whose life, services, talents, and virtues were the pride and glory of the nation, expired at his residence in Quincy, Mass. on the 4th day of July, at the advanced age of 92.”

This famous opening to the obituary of John Adams in the New-York Statesman captures the life, accomplishments, and spirit of an American Founding Father. His status as a patriot who served his nation is celebrated, his impact on history canonized.

Obituaries often eloquently summarize the lives and times of those who pass, the words serving as testament to how people are remembered by family and friends.

In addition to memorializing the spirit of ancestors, obituaries are fertile sources of genealogical information. A simple obituary search in FamilySearch collections such as BillionGraves, Find A Grave, GenealogyBank, etc. can yield important clues that illuminate the lives of kin.

We asked genealogists for the most powerful ways they expand their family trees. They told us obituaries are one of the most significant resources to discover new genealogical lines and fill in details about little-known ancestors.

Use their suggestions to help power your family tree and collect richer family histories!

Open up new branches of your family tree

Randy Seaver, founder of Genea-Musings
Randy Seaver, founder of Genea-Musings

“Genealogists know that obituaries can significantly enrich the family tree and help it grow,” says Randy Seaver, founder of Genea-Musings. He notes that obituaries can be excellent sources of information about the deceased person’s spouse, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. “All of these names can add content to the family tree.”

Randy was able to use an obituary to learn about the life and family of his second great grandfather, David Auble, who was born in 1817. Not much was known of David or his family before Randy found an 1894 death notice printed in a Terre Haute, Indiana, newspaper. Randy explains, “David’s obituary provided much more information about his life as well as his siblings’ names, his wife and her siblings, and his children’s names and residences.”

Randy observes that knowing the residences of still-living relatives, often provided in obituaries, can open up additional genealogical opportunities. “Contacting descendants of the deceased via telephone, email, or personal letter may result in more information about the family,” he says.

Look to open up new branches of your family tree by doing an obituary search using  FamilySearch’s BillionGraves Index. In addition to recording names you may also find birth, marriage, and death dates of an ancestor.

Account for difficult-to-track family settlements and migrations

Lisa Louise Cooke, founder of Genealogy Gems