I truly enjoy collecting and reading the obituaries of my ancestors and relatives because they add flesh and bones to the places and dates. Recently, I have focused on trying to be sure that I've collected obits from my direct line of ancestors in as many different papers as possible. I've found that the small town papers give the best obituaries in terms of character of my ancestors, probably because they have more space and in smaller locales people were more likely to be well-known by their neighbors.
My recent favorite: The obituary of my great-grandmother, Barbara Isabel LeMASTER, which corrected the errors in my database regarding her place of death. While I had previously believed she had died in Jay County, Indiana, the words leapt out from the page as I read:
"Mrs. Barbara I. Lemaster, wife of L.C. Lemaster, of east of Salamonia, died at 4:25 o'clock Thursday evening at the hospital at Union City."Union City was in nearby Randolph County, Indiana, giving me a new avenue to research.
One of the shortest: The obituary of my paternal 3rd-great grandfather, Dr. Ezekiel Cooper CHEW, in the South Bend Weekly Tribune of September 1, 1888:
"Mr. Chew, west of town, died on the 27th ins., of dropsy, with which he had suffered for a long time. The funeral was held at the Christian church on the 29th, Rev. B. McDermott officiating. The remains were buried in the cemetery north of town."Dr. Chew had been married three times, outlived two wives, fathered 16 children, graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and practiced in two states. Yet he just rated three lines.
One of the saddest: The obituary of Mildred WRIGHT, in the September 13, 1903 Anderson Daily Herald:
"Alex. Sept.12 - Mildred Wright, aged 2 years and 6 months, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Wright, residing two miles north of the city, died this morning at 2 o'clock of diphtheria. Private funeral services at the home tomorrow afternoon at 3 o'clock."I could not imagine the heartbreak that these parents, and those of any parent who has lost a child, went through.
Misinformation, embellishment, or fabrication?: The obituary of my maternal 3rd-great grandfather, Carey Wilson LAMBERTSON, in the March 18, 1918 Elwood Call-Leader:
"Mr. Lambertson was born in Butler county, Ohio, April 29, 1846, and was the son of John and Sarah Wilson Lambertson. He was a first cousin of President Wilson."I've found no connection between President Woodrow Wilson and our Wilson family. Was this an embellishment by the paper, or perhaps a story my ancestor told, and/or believed?
Obituaries do come in all shapes and sizes, and some are more truthful than others. All are clues and pieces to this puzzle that we call genealogy.