Mayflower Genealogy: Use Obituaries to Find Interesting Details about Relatives

Obituaries may be morbid, but they can be a great way to learn more about our ancestors. Oftentimes, you’ll find fascinating details about your relatives like interesting hobbies, causes of death – or in the case of a GenealogyBank obituary I recently came across, a detailed family history.

I was researching my 11th great grandfather, Pilgrim John Howland (1592-1672), who immigrated to America aboard the Mayflower. Though John died in 1672 and GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives only go back as far as 1690, I knew newspaper records were likely the best source for finding additional information about what happened to John’s descendants after he arrived in America.

I began by searching the Massachusetts Newspaper Archives for “John Howland.”

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for "John Howland"
Source: GenealogyBank

This result, an obituary from the National Aegis, was a good example of how useful obituaries can be. This detailed death notice for a Captain John Howland (1757-1843) has the added bonus of tracing his genealogy back five generations to my 11th great grandfather, Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland.

An obituary for John Howland, National Aegis newspaper article 12 July 1843
Source: GenealogyBank, National Aegis (Worcester, Massachusetts), 12 July 1843, page 3

With the information from this obituary, I was able to trace how I’m related to another John Howland (1802-1846) in my family tree (pictured below), but I also now have the birth dates and names of his father and grandfathers going five generations back.

Portrait: Capt. John Howland (1802-1846), by an unknown artist
Portrait: Capt. John Howland (1802-1846), by an unknown artist. Credit: New Bedford Whaling Museum https://www.pinterest.com/pin/199706564696556092/; Pinterest.

Genealogy Tip: Beyond just confirming birth and death dates, obituaries can be useful for finding other information about your family history, including a multi-generational family tree with the names of parents and grandparents, as well as other relatives.

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