Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Importance of Finding Obituaries - All of Them

By Curt Witcher

Most of us who have been doing genealogy for any length of time know the benefit of finding obituaries for their ancestors. As we scour the period around an ancestor’s death in search of records that tell us about the life lived and lead us to other clues, we learn the important role obituaries play in filling out that story and filling in important details.

Too often, the search for obituaries is limited to one newspaper that is commercially published and widely circulated. It is important to recall that other types of newspapers were published during the lifetimes of our ancestors that also carried obituaries. Religious newspapers, while not consulted as often as they should be, carry amazingly robust obituaries and tributes. The Evangelical Messenger is one such example.

The Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center has been publishing abstracts of the obituaries from the Evangelical Messenger, compiled by Anne Budd, on its GenealogyCenter.Info website.  Currently, there are more than 186,000 records available to be searched. The transcriptions are a marvelous key to getting access to the actual obituaries. Obituaries from the Evangelical Messenger cover the Great Lakes states and beyond.

An example of the robust data one can find in obituaries published in denominational newspapers is the obituary of Peter Weiss appearing on page 7 of the February 19, 1880 Evangelical Messenger paper. It indicates that Peter died on January 26, 1880 in Bremen, Marshall County, Indiana and gives his exact age of 68 years, 4 months, and 28 days. From that we can calculate his exact date of birth date. In addition, we learn that he was born in Ringgenberg, Interlacken, Canton Berne, Switzerland, came to America in 1832, and first settled in Stark County, Ohio. We are told that in 1836 he married Margaret Helm and fathered thirteen children, all of whom preceded him in death. The robust obituary also tells us about his second marriage, his commitment to the church and the bequest he made to missionary work. The amount of data and the number of actionable leads we get from this one obituary is amazing.

In seeking to find all the newspapers that might contain obituaries of and tributes to our ancestors, it is important to recall that many state libraries have very complete collections of newspapers on microfilm. Further, many of these newspapers are available through interlibrary loan. The Indiana State Library has a great list of newspapers on microfilm by county, linked on their website. The state library also has links to online newspapers around Indiana, though many online archives don’t go back to the earliest times of the publications. Always keep interlibrary loaning of the microfilm as an option—you will want to see the entire obituary yourself.

(This article by Curt Witcher originally appeared in the IGS June 2010 Newsletter. It has been updated. If you'd like access to more articles like this, join the Indiana Genealogical Society. The newsletter is just one of the many member benefits!)


  1. Thank you, this was very helpful to know.

  2. One good source of strong obits is fraternal organizations, i.e. Odd Fellows, Masons, Redmen, etc. Very often much more detailed than the general newspapers.

  3. Thank you for this info! This stimulates me to think deeper and broader in my strategies.