Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott shows how he is putting his New Year’s genealogy resolution into action: using historical newspapers to find obituaries for all his American ancestors.
Happy New Year! It is always a terrific feeling to start a whole New Year with a clean slate that holds untold potential! Nowhere do I feel this potential more than in working on my genealogy, ancestry, and family history.
Each year at this time, like most of you I am sure, I spend a few minutes making my New Year’s resolutions. I make my personal resolutions and then I also make a few genealogy-related resolutions. Among others this year I included the following:
I resolve to find an obituary for every one of my ancestors in America!
A tall genealogical order you say? I agree, but if I am going to take the time to make a New Year’s resolution I want it to be something that I can really sink my teeth into and enjoy all year long. Plus having just renewed my GenealogyBank.com subscription, I feel as though I already have a head start on my resolution because this collection of more than 6,500 online newspapers contains over 220 million obituaries and death records.
Here is how I am going to achieve success with this resolution in 2014: one person in our family tree at a time. I will start by moving back in time from my own entry on our tree. Just as a note, I created—and continue to build—our family tree using Family Tree Builder software, and I maintain it on a site through MyHeritage.com so that it is quite easy for me to review each document, photo, etc., which has been attached to our family members. These include any obituaries that I have already discovered. A quick review of some entries was all it took for me to realize that I was missing quite a few obituaries in order to make my family tree more complete.
Sadly, I have the obituaries for both my mother and father because I was asked to write them, so I moved back one more generation and found that I did not have an obituary for my maternal grandfather, Allan Vincent Evenden. While I was surprised that I had overlooked getting this entry for our family tree, once I thought about it I realized that I had fallen into the trap of having received firsthand knowledge of the event without following up and documenting it for future generations! You see, my mom lost her dad when she was only 13 and I had heard the story of his passing during the depths of the Great Depression not only from my mom, but also from my grandmother.
Let the ancestor obituary search begin!
And so I decided to put my New Year’s resolution in action, and began searching GenealogyBank’s newspapers.
It didn’t take me long to find a notice in a 1933 Ohio newspaper announcing the funeral for my grandfather and requesting his Masonic brethren to attend and “Please bring your auto.”
This newspaper funeral notice rang a bell in my memory and led me to my jewelry box. There I pulled out the only heirloom passed down to me by my grandmother: my grandfather’s pocket watch. As you can see in this photo, there on the fob is a Masonic symbol which, after reading the above notice, gained new importance to me. By the way, the photo attached to the fob is the only photo we have of my grandfather, so this heirloom is quite a gem to me!
Genealogy Tip: Get the whole story
Then as I looked further for more information on my grandfather I was given a fun little genealogy lesson. My next discovery was again in the Plain Dealer, from 1942. It announced the marriage engagement of my mother, Laverne, the daughter of Mrs. Allan V. Evenden, on Christmas Day 1942 to Mr. Lincoln Nels Christensen. Whoops! While that is my mom and this engagement did occur, for some reason the marriage didn’t. So remember to always do that “reasonably exhaustive search” when you are working on your genealogy. It is important that we make sure to get the whole story from beginning to end.
Finding the obituaries of Grandma & Aunt Em
Then my New Year’s resolution dealt me my second genealogy lesson of the day. You see, one of my pet peeves has always been that up until college, all my history teachers ended their history lessons just before the timeframe they lived. Well, I discovered with my next family tree review that I was guilty of the same error! After attaching my grandfather’s funeral notice to our family tree, I clicked on my grandmother’s record and discovered I had made that same mistake—I had ended too soon. I was with my grandmother when she passed away and I had not documented the history I had lived. I was able to quickly correct my oversight when I found my grandmother’s obituary in the Plain Dealer from 1970. As an added genealogy bonus, there on the same page of search results was an obituary for my Aunt Em, another one that I had missed!
I couldn’t be more thrilled with how my 2014 New Year’s resolution is working out, and it is only the first week of January. While it might take me all year to find all of my American ancestors’ obituaries, I already know that it is one of the best genealogy resolutions I have ever made!
What has been the best genealogy New Year’s resolution you have ever made? Add your comment here and let me know.