2014: The Year of the Obituaries


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Which historical document contains the life story of an individual, possibly a picture, and a list of his or her closest relatives?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