Using information off of a newspaper obituary

How much information do I need to create a branch on my tree?

Have you ever found an obituary in the newspaper which contains information but none of the information is complete?

This blog posting will show you how you can use the bits and pieces of information in an obituary to create a full branch for your tree.

I found the following obituary in the September 1918 issue of “The Border Cities Star” newspaper published in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Screen Print of Obit
Screen Print of Obit

When I want to work on a family tree using an obituary off of Google Archive newspaper, the first thing I do is take a screen print of the obituary. The second thing I do is start a text file of the info contained in the obituary.

Text file created
Text file created

In this case the text file contains the name of the city where the death occurred, “Elmstead”, the date of the report “Sept 3, 1918, the name of the person “Mrs. J. W. Kerr, the day or date of her death “Monday”.

Since the Obituary does not have an actual date I have to go back to the front page of the newspaper and see what day that particular newspaper has on its header.

Front Page
Front Page
Close up date
Close up date

We now know the newspaper was printed on Tuesday the 3rd of September, so if she died on Monday her death date must be 02 Sep 1918.

In our text file we can note the case of death but it does not help us with creating a tree. The important information would be where she died, the names of relatives mentioned, the date of the funeral and finally where she was buried.

The last thing we need on our text file is the name of the newspaper, where it is published, the date and day of publication and finally instructions on how to use the link.

Note: sometimes there is no direct link to the newspaper item so we have to say something like this:

“See two columns over to the right of this link:”

In this case, her Obit was highlighted so we can capture the URL for the link and put the link in our text file.

Capture URL
Capture URL

The information that I calculated or surmised is shown in brackets “[ ]” on the text file.

Here is the text file again for you to see, now that you know what to look for.

Text file created
Text file created


Once I have completed the steps above: Screen print of Obit, day and date of newspaper, create text file, capture URL, then I can start creating the tree for Mrs. J. W. Kerr.

I use to create my trees because I find it easy to use and it provides me with record hints as I build the tree.

Since her obituary does not have her full name I create a tree for Mrs. J. W. Kerr and put her on the tree as “Mrs. J. W. Kerr” her father is “father of Mrs. Kerr“. The obituary has a death day “Monday” and I found out what the date was for that day, so I put the date “02 Sep 1918” on her profile page. I then add a husband for her “J. W. Kerr” then add her children “Avis, William and George“; they are mentioned in the Obit. Since they also mention her sister in the obituary I put in “Mrs. G. A. Robb” as a daughter of “father of Mrs. Kerr“. I then add a husband for the sister “G. A. Robb“. The new tree looks like this.

Initial Tree with limited information
Initial Tree with limited information

As you can see there are already hints for some of the people; the leaves shown on the tree.

Tree Hints
Tree Hints

I click on the leaf which is on Avis box and I get this page.

Hints for Avis
Hints for Avis

The hint is a 1921 census record which contains her full name, her father’s name and a sibling “W. J. Kerr” which I assume is William.

I review the hint to make sure it really is for her and not some other Avis.

1921 census text
1921 census text

The census record shows me that her father has the same initials as on our tree, she also has a brother W J and a brother George Edward Kerr, so I am pretty sure this is a good record to pick up. I save it to her profile page and I get a chance to confirm the data. The new data that is on the record is shown with a check box which allows me to include it or exclude it from my tree. Note that her name check box is not already checked; the reason for this is that I already have an entry for her name, so will not change something that I already have. It allows me to add or not add the information.

Avis info off of 1921 census
Avis info off of 1921 census

I can click on the boxes to add or remove the data that is on the record. In this case I want to add the name they have for her since it is a full name and not just Avis. I click on the box and the record name is added to her profile page.

Click on box for name
Click on box for name

I do the same for her fathers information. Since all I had on the tree was his name all the new info boxes are automatically checked. Showing me that this is the information that will be added to his profile page.

Fathers information from 1921 census
Fathers information from 1921 census

There are similar pages with data for William and George Edward.
Once I save all the new information to the tree I see more info on the profile boxes of the tree, I also see new hints:

Tree after selection the information for 1921 census
Tree after selection the information for 1921 census

When I check out the leaves I see that William now has two family tree hints, J. W. has two records and four family tree hints and Avis has three records and four family tree hints. George Edward does not have any hints.

I will continue this process; picking up hints, for every person on the tree.

I will review the information on the family tree hints and if I can confirm the data I will make a note of the information. I do not like to “pick up” the tree hints because sometimes there is some small difference with the information. Instead I jot down the new information they show on their tree and I then try to find a record which confirms the information. I am able to click on their tree name and view their tree and the information it contains. The family tree hints are presented to me with the first tree being the one which has the most sources, the second with less sources and so on. Some of the trees may not even be part of the family but because they have similar names and dates they are presented to me for my review. I am sure you have worked on a tree that has William Jones married to Mary Smith in Maryland abt 1870 and sure enough there are five trees with these names and date combination.

Tree Hints
Tree Hints

My final step is to add the screen print of the obit (see above) to Mrs. J.W. Kerr’s profile page and have it be used as her picture. From the information off of records and family trees we now know that her full name is “Frances Miriam Cock”.

So this is what the tree looks like after all the hints have been picked up and the family tree’s information has be reviewed and verified.

Final Tree
Final Tree

As you can see there are many more names and dates added to the tree (all confirmed and verified). You will also note there are many more hints that I could pick up but since I created the tree just to hold the screen print of the Obit and added just the people mentioned in the obit or records I picked up, there is no need to go any further with the tree.
At this point I send out a message to all the confirmed family trees that I discovered in the hints. I found seventeen (17) trees which had one or more persons shown on this tree.

Here is the message that I sent out to the seventeen family tree owners:

I am not part of the family or tree; I just saw her Obit and wanted to get it to her family.

Thank you.

Jose from Clarkston, Michigan, USA

Sept 3, 1918

Mrs. J. W. Kerr

died: Monday (02 Sep 1918)
of acute diabetes

sister Mrs. G. A. Robb
died a week previous (Aug 1918)

husband: J. W. Kerr

one daughter: Miss Avis

two sons: William and George
both at home [Windsor]

funeral: Wednesday (04 Sep 1918)

interment: Windsor Grove cemetery
Tree created to hold screen print of Obit:
Mrs J W Kerr Sep 1918 Family Tree
Owner: josemunoz2546
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

The Border Cities Star
Sep 3, 1918
A Record of her death from
Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938
and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947

Name: Francis M Kerr

Death Date: 2 Sep 1918
Death County or District: Essex
Death State: Ontario
Death Country: Canada

Age: 48
Gender: Female

Estimated Birth Year: abt 1870
Birth Location: Windsor, Ontario
Sent to Family Trees:
Gough Family Tree
Owner: Emsworker
Bradway-Wood Family Tree
Owner: wmbradway

The message contains fifteen other family tree names, owners and links

I hope this blog posting will help you create branches for your family tree.

Thank You
Jose from Clarkston, Michigan

5 thoughts on “Using information off of a newspaper obituary

Add yours

    1. Yes I am. Thank you for the “YAY”. I’ve been wanting to post several stories but just didn’t get around to it, but now maybe I will post some more.

    1. Thank you, Yes I am back. I’ve had several stories I wanted to post but I just didn’t get around to doing it. Now maybe I will post some more.

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