The only information you have about your great-grandfather aside from his name is two dates – his date of birth and his date of death. Anyone who knew him has long since passed. How can you learn more? Using the digital archives of newspapers, either on-line from the publishers or through your local library or archives, try to find his obituary. If you are fortunate enough to do so, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Here are ten things you may find in his obituary:
- Date and place of death – most obituaries will contain this. It may say “died last Tuesday” but if you have the date of the newspaper, simply pull up an on-line calendar for that month/year and it will give you the actual date.
- Date of birth or age at death – some obituaries may give the actual birth year or perhaps even the full birth date; others may simply say “died at age 45” which will enable you to approximate the year of birth.
- Where born – you may think your ancestor was born locally but his obituary may reflect something else – ex: born in Wellington, Prince Edward Island. This will point you in a new direction to continue your search for additional information,
- Parent’s Names – most obituaries will contain the parent’s names including the maiden name of the mother.
- Spouse/children/siblings – most obituaries will contain the name of his spouse (including maiden name) as well as the married names of female children; brothers and sisters (including their married names). Spouses names of sons/brothers are seldom included.
- Military Service – veterans and their families were proud of their military service. If they served in one of the great wars, it will probably be included in the obituary. The name of his unit, countries he saw service in, dates, and perhaps any recognitions/honours awarded will also be included.
- Place(s) of Employment – the obituary may contain just his last place of employment – or give a detailed listing of places he had worked.
- Clubs/Affiliations – individuals are proud to be part of organizations such as Masons, Rotary, Knights of Columbus, Church, Sports Teams, etc. so these may be included as well as any positions held within them.
- Pallbearers – the listing of pallbearers may give you names of additional family members. Example – “pallbearers were six grandsons – and then list them“, etc. or give you an idea of who his friends/co-workers/neighbours were.
- Place of Burial – perhaps your ancestor’s final resting place is unknown. You may have expected it to be the cemetery affiliated with the church the family attended but there is no record of him being buried there. The obituary may solve that mystery for you. Perhaps he was working in another part of Canada or the Northern United States when he passed away and is buried there. The obituary might point you to a cemetery in Stillwater, Minnesota for example where many former Northumberland County residents are buried as they moved there to work in the lumber industry.
Some obituaries may disappoint you and contain relatively little information. Others may provide a wealth of information. When they contain statements such as “Mr. X was a man of outstanding moral character and highly respected in his community” it speaks to the character of the person and helps paint a fuller picture of who your ancestor was.
To assist researchers, our NBGS database currently contains in excess of 22,000 obituaries with Northumberland County connections and continues to grow. Perhaps it contains what you are searching for!