Genealogy Research For Reunion Presentation - Remember Obituaries
- While doing research for genealogy presentation you do want to
remember making use of archived obituaries in newspapers. Many date
as far back as the late 1800's. This has led to interesting
What is the history of obituaries?
Are obituaries a primary source?
As told by Alan E. Mann, Senior Consultant, British Reference,
Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT... Gentlemen's Magazine
started publishing short death notices in 1731 in England. The idea
was that the gentry would appreciate "intelligence" about their own
kind. While they published articles about flora and fauna as well as
battles in the far corners of the British Empire, one of their
consistent popular features was birth, death, and marriage notices
of the privileged class and other notorious or interesting
individuals. The original title of the magazine was "The Monthly
Intelligencer." It continued with several pages of such notices each
month until 1860. This is the earliest I've seen for a regular
publication with information similar to an obituary for a large
number of individuals."
Chad Leinaweaver Director for the Library The New Jersey Historical
Society 52 Park Place Newark, NJ 07102 introduced the question to
the web public in 2002 adding "but true obituaries listing next of
kin, place of burial, where the service will beheld, deceased's
occupation and activity in civic and cultural groups, etc. for
us common folk, seem to appear in newspapers about 1875-1900,
What is the earliest dated obituary in your research?
Mary Harris of Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta, NY says "When
did humans start immortalizing others of the species in print,
that type of thing? Would I be safe in saying since the time of
Ancient Egypt?" I would think.
Are obituaries a primary source?
Why shouldn't they be? Documented data on the life and times of an
individual does oftem come with out a degree of research expertise
and professionalism. Note this point from The Daily Camera "But a
growing number of editors have recognized the popularity of
obituaries and are assigning accomplished feature writers to prepare
them. Some writers tackle the job with flair and style, viewing
today's obituary as "creative nonfiction."
"Richly written obituaries are a journalism art from the 1880s that
have again blossomed," said Nigel Starck, a journalism professor
from the University of South Australia who has researched the
history of obituaries and was the keynote speaker here. "The
obituary is the finest form of journalism it's investigative,
requires accuracy and is written by an absolutely inquisitive person
with a mix of candor and elegance so that it is rewarding to both
the writer and the reader."
The popularity of such stories was proved again by The New York
Times, which was lauded widely for publishing more than 1,800
capsule profiles of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The effort contributed to the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the
newspaper this spring.
New York obituary writer Steve Miller who escaped from one of the
World Trade Center towers moments before it collapsed read several
of the profiles on Saturday, holding back tears. The stories, he
said, "raised my consciousness that everyone is precious."
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