Growing up, I always thought that my grandma was weird for reading the obituaries every morning. When I asked her why she did it, she would reply “to see if anyone I know died”. I get it now.
I have a routine when it comes to my genealogical research. After my time with God, I grab my coffee and head to my computer. First thing I do is read the obituaries. Reading the obituaries not only allows me to search for recent deaths of people that I’m related to or that are relatives of clients, but it also helps me fill in unknown information for a specific family tree. Maybe the newly deceased was on my tree, but I didn’t know his/her location. Maybe I didn’t have a birth or marriage date and location for them. Perhaps I didn’t know their spouse our children’s names. Perhaps this is a new person for my tree. In less than 6 months, I’ve located 10 people that have been related to either myself or a client, and this is just from checking one paper.
If I could locate this many loved ones from just one paper, imagine how many I could locate if I searched all the nation’s papers. Unfortunately, if I did that, that’s all I’d do. So I started to search for a obituary search engine. The problem became that I wasn’t finding one that gave me search results for that day. The only thing I could find that claimed to do that was Legacy’s ObitMessenger. This left me leary because I’ve tried searching for past obituaries that I know should come up in search results, but was unable to locate them. If they didn’t point me to a previous obituary, would they be accurate for today’s publishings? Only one way to find out. I started by setting up alerts for just a few of my surnames as well as the surnames of clients. It took 2 days for me to find a relevant obituary. I set up an alert for “Wittmann”, my mom’s maiden surname and was pointed to an obituary (oddly, in my local paper) that I never would have noticed since I don’t (shame on me, I know) read all obituaries from top to bottom. This obituary was for the mother-in-law of one of my distant cousins. I had him listed in my family tree, but not his wife or children so I was able to put that info into my tree. An extra bonus is that, since I found her mother’s obituary, I now have some family info on her if she or anyone else in her family should want it.
Some tips for setting up an ObitMessenger alert:
1.) You can set up 5 keywords per alert. Max out these fields. 3 5 word searches are easier to handle 15 one word searches.
2.) ALWAYS use “or” between your key words.
3.) Alphabetize your key words when you set up new alerts. Will they get out of order as you add alerts? Yes. If you have the time and patience, you can always reorder them, but at least start out with your first ones alphabetized.
4.) Always pick “all newspapers”… you never know where your relatives may wander off to.
5.) Set up alerts for keywords that you don’t think you’ll get results from. In-law surnames are big if you only know the last name of a person or you’re looking for the children of a couple.
6.) Set up keywords to search the entirety of the obituary. This will pick up on survivor and descendant names
Are you going to get results that are completely unapplicable? Oh yeah. There’s a Schneider funeral home somewhere so I unfortunately the obituary of everyone they serve sent to me, but fortunately that’s quickly spotted and I can move on. Having irrelevant search results is much better than missing out on valuable information.
What if you’re going to be hiring a professional genealogist rather than doing the research yourself? Still set up alerts. The more information you can give your genealogist both at the start of and as research progresses, the easier their job will be and the further they’ll be able to get with the time and finances you’re willing to give them.
If you haven’t already, go to http://www.legacy.com/NS/explore/ and set up some alerts. I’d love to hear what you find!