Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 2, Number 5 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 May 2010
Fourth Edition of 2010 - Genealogy Gazette
In this issue we will be covering newspapers and obituaries. Finding an obituary for a family member can take some time and patience, but how rewarding to find another piece of puzzle in your family tree.
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James L. Douthat
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One of our subscribers contacted me a few days ago and asked about finding an obituary for his Grandpa in the mid-1880s. The first couple of things one has to remember about obituaries is that every newspaper that prints them is different. The policy regarding their inclusion in the paper varied with each editor/owner. Some papers considered these a courtesy to the reader, while others placed these in the unnecessary category and could leave them out at will. Today, most newspapers contain these only for a fee. Like the lady that was working with the funeral director over her late husband’s obituary, the funeral director says, “The newspaper charges $1.00 per inch.” To this the lady quickly replied, “I can’t afford that, he was over six feet two inches.”
If you are looking for a copy of a back paper, then you are probably in luck because most newspapers have been microfilmed by one or more sources. Today most of the newspapers have been microfilmed to prevent storing the old newsprint which deteriorates quickly. For the older newspapers, some historical society, some universities or even some individuals will have them microfilmed. Beyond this, many of the older papers are now digitized and available in this form.
Case in point, a friend and I were looking for the obituary for Col. Return Jonathan Meigs, Federal Indian Agent to the Cherokee from 1801-1824. We knew when he died and since he was the highest ranking Federal official in southeast Tennessee at the time of his death, we felt that there would be a good obituary. However, in looking at the microfilm of the only newspaper around Knoxville there was no reference to the time in which he died. Searching through court records, the McMinn County Court had a case in 1906 that mentioned his burial site as the Calhoun Methodist Church. It stated, “There are seven graves in a row unmarked. Col. Meigs is buried in the middle grave with three Cherokee chiefs on either side.” This made no sense at all. Col. Meigs had three different posts during his tenure. He started in Kingston at the Fort Southwest Point, then moved down river to the “Garrison” in Rhea County and finally to Calhoun, Tennessee. The part that did not make sense was his wife and a son were buried at the “Garrison” on the Tennessee River. In a second search of the Knoxville newspaper microfilm, we found in another copy of those records Col. Meigs’ nearly full page obituary. In this article, the then Governor of Tennessee Joseph McMinn stated that he accompanied the body down river to be buried beside his wife and son. Therefore, Col. Return Jonathan Meigs, friend and associate of General George Washington, was buried at the Garrison.
Remembering now that the policy changes with each editor/owner, let’s look into the background of newspapers. In the eighteenth century newspapers, normally only someone of real importance is mentioned, if at all, when they died. Most of these papers were only two to six pages, so space was very limited. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, newspapers were bigger and more numerous. In addition to the local newspapers, most of the fraternal and religious bodies began publishing weekly and monthly newspapers also. “The Christian Advocate” and later “The Western Christian Advocate” were published by the Methodist Church and carried obituaries for the entire organization. Living in Tennessee, a Methodist member could be reading of the death of someone in New Jersey. By the time of the twentieth century, the local newspapers were much larger and could generate funds by charging for the inclusion of these obituaries in their papers.
Now that you have decided to search for the obituary of your Grandpa, or just search to see if there is an obituary for him, where do you look? The first approach is to contact the local library to get a listing of the newspapers that were in the area at the time in question. More than likely, the local library will be the best source for this information. In fact, many of the local libraries have indices of these papers and can tell you if the obituary is there. If this is what you find, reach around and pat yourself on the back - you are extremely lucky. If not, let the games begin. Local universities or colleges might have the films and might have a student assistant who can look it up for you for a small fee. Many of the state universities that have journalism departments will have copies of all the newspapers in their state. However, your best bet is to stay as close to the area in question as possible. Many of these older newspapers are available on inter-library loan from the current newspaper companies, the universities or even the State Archives. You have to look in all directions. Check out historical/genealogical societies in the area for help in finding the records.
Remember that while looking for Grandpa, don’t forget Grandma and/or their children as well. If you have the time and access to the newspapers, go all out in your search. If you are not sure of the death date, then books on cemeteries, state vital records after 1912 for the most part and old Bible records can give you a clue. The problem is often that newspapers are not printed daily and some are weekly or even monthly, so remember this when searching. A great service on the part of local historical/genealogical societies is to have an index of the newspapers in their area. This helps them and is a source of income for the societies. For a small fee, they will send a copy of the obituary to the researcher.
Finding the obituary of the average man in the street is one that takes lots of effort and may leave you disappointed, but if you find one hopefully it will provide you with great information about your family.
SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE NEWSPAPER ABSTRACTS THROUGH 1859
Helen Rowland, 395 Pages, 8.5"x11", Full Name Index, Perfect Bound
With over 40 different newspapers abstracted in this volume, the areas of west Tennessee, eastern Arkansas and northern Mississippi are well covered. Most all of these records are of vital information such as births, deaths, and marriages. Many times the various trials and other items of interest are given as well. For an area of Tennessee where little is published, this is a wonderful addition to anyone’s library of Tennessee materials. There are over 19,300 names in the index of names and places. Example: “Died, In this city on the morning of the 22d inst. Mrs. Mary E., wife of James Hamilton, Esq. Charleston (S.C.) And Georgia papers please copy. The funeral will take place from the Methodist Church, corner of Second and Poplar Street. Memphis Daily Appeal 9/23/1859.
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Rhea County In Old Newspapers 1809-1834
Bettye J. Broyles, Abstractor, 190 Pages, 8.5" x 11", Full Name Index, Soft Cover
There were three newspapers in Knoxville, TN that had articles about Rhea County in them and these were abstracted for this material. These three papers were the Wilson’s Knoxville Gazette, Knoxville Register and the Enquirer. When the Rhea County Society finalized their history of the county in 1990, these newspapers were not available for inclusion so they are now a supplement to that history.
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Bland County, Virginia Obituaries and Death Records: 1861-1890
86 Pages, 8.5"x11", Full Name Index, Perfect Bound, Softcover
While the majority of information contained in this publication was abstracted from The Bland Messenger, Roanoke Times and The Bluefield Dailey Telegraph, the author left no stone unturned - obtaining additional information from old scrap books, newspapers, funeral home programs, and items sent via e-mail.
Obituaries cover the years 1893 to 1999. To round off this volume, death records were abstracted from Reel 4, Bland County Vital Statistics housed at the Archives of the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia.
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