Canada, Newspaper Obituaries (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The reference to the church and the cemetery provide hints for sources which might provide the date of death, aside from the civil registration record, that is, the church registers and the cemetery burial records.

Recent Deaths: William M. Horsey
William M. Horsey, former Police Magistrate of Bowmanville and a pioneer resident died at his home there Saturday, January 1, in his 96th year.
The late Mr. Horsey was born in Colyton, Devon, England in 1832, and came to Canada when 14 years of age. With his parents, he resided for some years at Kingston where he completed his education and later married Margaret Wilson of Ganonoque. In 1858 the family moved to Bowmanville and after several years in the hardware business, returned to Kingston. In 1874 he returned here and carried on business for some years, later becoming associated with the Dominion Organ and Piano Company.
In April, 1902, on the death of George C. Haines, he was appointed Police Magistrate for the town of Bowmanville and after occupying the post for 23 years retired in 1925, being succeeded by Barrister W. F. Ward, B.A. He was Mayor of Bowmanville in 1886 and 1887 and served as Reeve and Councillor and Public School Trustee at different times. He was one of the largest owner [sic] of property in Bowmanville.
Mrs. Horsey predeceased him in 1921 and of four sons, only one, William Wilson Horsey, Oshawa, and one daughter, Margaret, who has been his constant and faithful companion, survive.
The funeral which was private was held at his late residence, Temperance street, on Tuesday afternoon, service being conducted by Rev. J. U. Robins, pastor of Trinity United Church.
Pall-bearers were: Ex-Mayor J. B. Mitchell, W. B. Couch, John Percy, J. A. McClellan, F. J. Mitchell, H. W. Lapp. Interment took place at Bowmanville Cemetery. (
Oshawa Daily Reformer,7 January 1927)


This splendid obituary is for a politician, hence rather longer than usual, but the detail it contains will be valuable for any family historian. It includes:

  • birthdate and place
  • date of emigration
  • places of residence § occupation
  • full name of wife and her original residence (possibly birthplace)
  • public offices, with some dates
  • wife’s death year
  • names of two of his five children (the omission of the dead sons is typical of the time)
  • details of the funeral and pallbearers

Birthplaces given in obituaries, especially of the very old, should always be treated skeptically until proven. It is interesting that Mr. Horsey continued to be Police Magistrate in Bowmanville until he was 94 years old.

Obituaries are a good possibility for information about emigration and about other residences, which might answer the question ‘Why can’t I find this person where I expect him to be?’ In Horsey’s case, he went back and forth between Bowmanville and Kingston at least three times. Knowing he had left Frontenac county for Durham in 1858 might lead us to expect to find him there in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, if we did not know he had returned to Frontenac for a time.

This obituary and that of Mr. Kime were published in the same day’s newspaper, but on different pages. Horsey’s appeared on the local news page (‘Oshawa and District’) while Kime’s was on the ‘Women’s Daily Interests’ page, along with another obit, for Mrs. John Timlin of Centreton, some distance to the east. Obituaries often appear in unusual locations in the newspaper as they were used to help fill space. Mrs. Timlin’s notice had been sent to Oshawa by the Cobourg reporter for the paper and is short and uninformative. It is probably a truncated version of the original submission, added simply to fit a blank spot. Researchers might find a more detailed notice in a Cobourg newspaper.

Never assume that the BMDs you are searching for will be found in a BMD column, or that the column will appear on the same page in every issue. While this may be the case most of the time, there are bound to be exceptions, and you don’t want to miss a vital record.

One of the earliest obituaries to appear in the pioneer Edmonton Bulletincomes on 26 November 1881, almost a year after the newspaper began. It was published on page one:

Peacock: on the 14th of October, of congestion of the brain, in Burrows’ survey camp, near Touchwood Hills, in the 24th year of his age, Alexander Peacock of Ottawa, brother of Mr. John Peacock of this place. The body was interred at Qu’Appelle.

This short notice poses several questions and answers some others. Touchwood Hills is in Saskatchewan, far from Edmonton, and Alexander Peacock has no clear connections with Edmonton, except for his brother living there. This notice was published for the benefit of John Peacock’s friends, as news. Alexander’s cause of death is mysterious, and would need referral to a book of Victorian medical terms to determine what was meant. There are several of these published specifically for genealogical work. A Canadian publication is Before modern medicine: diseases and yesterday’s remedies, by Elizabeth Briggs and Colin J. Briggs (Westgarth, 1998).

The researcher will be glad to know that Alexander was working at Burrows’ survey camp, that he came from Ottawa (as did John, presumably) and that he is buried at Qu’Appelle. It might be possible to find the grave, if needed. Information about the survey camp might be in government records. Earlier records about the Peacocks could be found in Ottawa.

This is a fine example of a death notice found in an unexpected place, but it is unlikely that a Peacock researcher would have looked for, or found it, without an index reference. It was published far from the event, in a newspaper which did not normally publish obituaries, and long after the event it describes. This illustrates the value of newspaper indexes as pointers to the unexpected.

The young couple were new-comers here but by their faithfulness and diligence had won for themselves the confidence and esteem of the people of Cardston and in the passing away of his companion the young man will have the sympathy and condolence of the entire community. (Alberta Star, 18 April 1908)

This fulsome notice for ‘the wife of Mr. Wm. Klippert’ (her own name is not given) is typical of the flowery nature of some Victorian writing, especially in obituaries. It says very little. Although it might be included in a family history, too much of this sort of thing wears out its welcome quickly to the modern ear. It can serve as a reminder that no one is under oath in a eulogy.

Contrasting to this, and a most unusual death notice, is that of ‘Dr. Geo. Verzy’ [actually Verey] in the Edmonton Bulletin of 21 November 1881. It gives details of the doctor’s medical background as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England and service as a military physician in the China War. He had served in the American army at Benton, Montana, as medical officer and signal observer.

It then goes on to say he was ‘of a somewhat wandering and melancholy disposition’ with ‘a craving for ardent spirits’. He died of an overdose of chloral while delirious.

Very vivid detail is included: “The funeral was to have taken place on Monday at one o’clock, but owing to decomposition having set in it was not thought advisable to delay it until that hour. It took place at eleven o’clock.” It ends with the note that ‘He had made a will but it had not been found up to the present.’

The sensational nature of this notice is in direct opposition to that of Mrs. Klippert, and provides a genealogist with much more useful information. Aside from his military service and professional qualification, which could be checked in reliable sources in Britain and the United States, the information about his personality is probably something which has not been handed down in family tradition. Certainly the physical detail about his funeral would have been forgotten and it once again takes the researcher directly back as a first-hand observer of the ancestral event. Wills, a matter of some delicacy because of their connection with money, were not usually referred to in death notices.

The fact that the doctor’s name is misspelled so badly in the heading (but corrected later in the notice) probably means it would turn up only under ‘Verzy’ in any index made of the Bulletin. This could serve as a reminder to researchers to search widely in any indexes you find, keeping in mind old newspapers’ predilection for misspelt names.

Other death-related notices in newspapers are accounts of funerals, cards of thanks, in memoriam notices and inquests.

Accounts of funerals

Accounts of funerals, as distinct from obituaries which include funeral information, appeared in the past, not only for grand personages but even for quite ordinary people. In places where weekly newspapers were the rule, or if the notice of death appeared some time after the event, the obituary would often include the funeral information.

E. Elizabeth Bardell buried here after service in Redcliff

Funeral services for the late Mrs. Ellen Elizabeth Bardell of Redcliff were held on Thursday afternoon from St. Ambrose’ church, Redcliff, the Rev. H. S. Hamnett having charge of the service. Pallbearers were G. Worts, K. Johnson, A. Dubeau, A. E. Sanderson, W. Smith and W. Hill. Interment was made in Hillside cemetery, Medicine Hat. Mrs. Bardell was born March 7, 1852 in Hertfordshire, England. Her father was James Grey of Hertford, a building contractor, who died at the age of 36years, leaving a wife, Ann, with five small children whom she raised without parochial assistance. Her late husband, Henry Bardell, formerly a coach-builder in Lincolnshire, England, came with her to Manitoba in January 1906, later moving to Bowell, Alberta in 1909. They resided on their Bowell homestead until Mr. Bardell died in 1915, after which Mrs. Bardell remained on the homestead with her son Ted. Surviving relatives include two sons, Harry and Charles Edward (Ted); one daughter (Emma), Mrs. Harry Johnson of Redcliff; one sister, Mrs. Harry Wells of Reading, Berkshire, England; also four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, living in Alberta and British Columbia. Floral tributes Mrs. and Mrs. Harry Johnson, Mr Ted Bardell, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Bardell and Mr. and Mrs. W. Willis, Mr and Mrs. R. Johnson, Mr. Albert Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Firgel Nels and Vernon, Mirror, Alberta; Mr. and Mrs. A. Gray and family, of Vancouver, B.C.; Mrs. and Mrs. Keetley Johnson and family, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. W. Hill; Mr. and Mrs. A. Dubeau, Mrs. and Mrs. R. Cann, Mr. and Mrs. Broughton, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cann, Mr. and Mrs. S. Leach, Violet and Johnny, of Vancouver, B.C., Mr. and Mrs. Roeser and family, St. Ambrose’ W.A., S.E. Gust Stores, Social Credit Group, Redcliff; Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson. (Medicine Hat News, 4 October 1935)

Material in a funeral account in addition to the usual obituary information includes:

  • names of pallbearers
  • names of those sending ‘floral tributes’
  • attendees from out of town
  • details of the service (who read, who sang)
  • place of burial (often also in the obituary)

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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.