Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 5, Number 5 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 February 27, 2013
In this article we discuss different points of research after a person has died. Even though the person is gone from this life, they live on in the records. The records surrounding a death can be very informative in your family search.
We look forward to seeing some of you at the workshop this weekend.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.
James L. Douthat
Join us for a full day workshop at the Huntsville Public Library on March 2, 2013. The workshop is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society. I will be speaking on East Tennessee Research or as I like to label it “The Black Hole of Genealogical Research”. Click on "Annual Seminar" tab on their website www.tvgs.org
Grandpa Died Ten Years Ago
Death is one of those things in life that is certain. It happens to all of us if we live long enough. I am not making fun of death, but it is one of the events in each of our lives that we cannot escape. For the genealogist, the various records surrounding a death can help in your research. Even though the person has passed on, there are moments and dates that can be captured that will live on forever.
The first milestone is the obituary. I have read thousands of these that only told about the personality of the individual and nothing of facts about their life. Did they marry? Did they have children? What did they do during the time here on earth? I know that when we say one “was a loving father” that it implies they had children or step-children. What were their names? It is amazing that people are not prepared for this one event in their lives and they leave writing the obituary up to their loved ones. The obituary is usually written during a time of anguish and pain, so it may not include all the pertinent details. It only takes a very short time to jot down some notes that can be used and it will certainly help your loved ones later.
It really amazes me how few people put the date of the death in the obituary. You would think the funeral homes would do this automatically, but seldom does it happen. I have boxes full of family obits with not a single date either in the article or even written on them when they were clipped out of the paper. Once it is clipped, then the date is not there. When collecting the data, think about what you are clipping and make sure that the date is attached. Even if you just write the date on the article it will help in the future.
Even if the newspaper articles include a hand written date, sometimes they may not be correct. For example, I received a newspaper article the other day that had been copied many years ago and had the date “1937” written on the back. The article included a photo of thirteen children with their ages listed. I could identify each one of them, but part of the article was missing as the collector cut up the article to mount it and parts of words and paragraphs were missing. I needed the full article. I knew that the youngest child was not mentioned in the article as he was born in April 1937. The photo had to have been taken sometime earlier. In looking closely at the other children, they were barefoot for the most part, which tells me this was not taken in the winter time. Going to the library and getting the newspaper microfilm, I started looking from May 1936 up for the full article. It took less than an hour to find the original article and to locate the missing words. Just a couple of clues helped in narrowing down the search.
The second milestone to look for after someone has died is the settlement of their estate. We all have something to leave to the next generation. This generates court records that are very useful in understanding the person in question. Finding these records is a little more difficult, but the rewards are great when they are found. We are looking for information that tells us more than just dates in a person’s life. What were they like in life? What did they do with their time here on earth? For example, I transcribed a will one time where the man gave his two daughters his property, one the town property and the other the country property. To his wife, he left the outhouse. What does that say about their relationship?
With the obituary and the settlements records in hand there are a few stumbling blocks to watch. If you find a “death certificate” be very careful as this information is being supplied by someone who follows the individual. One does not fill out this form for themself. This is where we need to have our information correctly written down somewhere that our survivors can find it when the time comes they need it.
Another point to watch very closely is the “tombstone”. Here again this is something that is done after the fact. The person giving the stonecutter the information needs to make sure they have the facts correct. A friend in Dallas tells the story of trying to find the grave of his great grandmother with the help of a cousin who was there when she was buried. Neither one could identify the grave of this lady. Years later, he found a wedding announcement where his great-grandmother married a third time at age 98 to a man age 99. They were married on a Saturday afternoon and on Sunday both were found dead. She was buried under the name of her third husband. She was right where the cousin knew she was buried, but with a different name.
Death is not final for the researcher. In fact, in some cases, it might just be the beginning for the search. Keep looking!!
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