Using Obituaries to Find Children Missing from Your Family Tree

Occasionally in your family history work, you will come across a relative who has, for whatever reason, been left off your family tree.

Such was the case for me. I used an old obituary to discover a missing son of my cousin Edward Rutledge (1858-1932), who had died just days before Christmas in 1891. That must have been a very tough Christmas for them.

He had been left out of our family records. Fortunately, with the help of GenealogyBank, finding these missing children and other relatives – and adding their information to our genealogical records – is easier than ever.

I knew that Edward had emigrated from Ireland to San Francisco, so I began by searching for his name in the old California newspapers.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Edward Rutledge
Source: GenealogyBank

This search led me to an obituary for a child missing from the family tree: the 6-year-old son of “Edward J. and Mary E. Rutledge.”

That was them.

An obituary for Edward Rutledge, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 21 December 1891
Source: GenealogyBank, San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 21 December 1891, page 3

Edward J. and Mary (Fay) Rutledge had five children listed in the family history. With the help of GenealogyBank, I was able to locate their first child and add him to the tree.

Sadly, the obituary mentions that little Edward died of diphtheria just five days before Christmas. Diphtheria was a major killer for centuries in America, and according to Wikipedia the disease still kills about 5-10% of people who are infected with it worldwide. At the time when little Edward died of diphtheria, the vaccine was only just beginning to be distributed worldwide.

According to Wikipedia, the “first cure of a person with diphtheria is dated to the 1891 Christmas holiday in Berlin” – the same month and year that Edward Rutledge died. A vaccine was available – but it was on the other side of the world from San Francisco. “Von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in medicine in 1901 for his work on diphtheria.”

Genealogy Tip: Obituaries for young children as well as old-timers can help you fill in the details of your family tree. Use to make sure every apple on your family tree is found and their story included.

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