Obituaries are an invaluable source of information for the genealogist and here we try to emphasize their importance for your family history researches.
My great great grandfather’s obituary was in his local town newspaper and provided me with so much information about his life – where he was born, where he went to school, that he was married three times, his children’s names and how many grandchildren he had at the time of his death.
There was also a detailed account of his career and his achievements – he was awarded the RNLI silver medal for gallantry – and the obituary also included information about where he had lived and worked at various times during his lifetime. It even gave an insight into his character and personality, obviously having been written by someone who knew him personally (although this won’t always be the case), enabling me to build a picture of him in my mind of him as a once living person. Of course, he died long before I was born and now there are no family members left alive who actually knew him, so this information is priceless to me.
When I started tracing my family history, I was determined to get back as far as I could, as quickly as I could and then ‘flesh out’ the social history at a later date. I now know, that tempting though this is for those new to genealogical research, you will find it far more rewarding as well as much more informative if you delve deeper into the lives of those you are researching – both living and dead – as you go along. In fact, sometimes this can prove to be crucial in picking up a trail that seems to have come to a dead end. For instance, if you have found a record of a death but are unable to find the birth, or you have a birth and marriage but are unable to find the death.
You may find mentioned in an obituary that a family member joined the armed forces, emigrated, served a jail term or represented his or her country in some way. There is often so much information (as always, you should always try to verify any third party information, report or anecdote) to be found in obituaries, that I would say that they can be ranked alongside wills in their importance to the family historian.
There are many advertised sources of search engine access to obituaries databases. Some are advertised as free searches, but this will only be for the initial search and a small fee will be payable before you can view any results found.