Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Finding an Obituary... with Tenacity

In many FaceBook Groups I see people asking for help in locating an obituary. Finding an obituary for an ancestor that died many years ago is not always that easy.  Some reasons being... not everyone placed a notice in the paper, some poverty-stricken persons' deaths went unnoticed, or simply the edition of the paper it may have been in no longer exists.
Many obituaries are not found by simply doing a search of the person's name in a newspaper archive search box. It is not a live person that went through each newspaper and diligently indexed each person's name they found.  Most digitalized newspapers are scanned with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software and especially with older papers where the print is hard to read you may get gobbledygook, like this:

If I have one trait that serves me well searching for my ancestors, it is tenacity! I have found quite a few of my ancestors' notice of death by browsing.  With most newspaper sites you can narrow down the search by dates, then browse through them looking for the Births and Deaths column.  Some of the newer papers have the page listed in the index near the front of the paper. Most older ones don't.  But once you get used to a paper you can see it is mostly in the same place in all issues. So if you know (or suspect) an approximate date it is not too tedious a job.  When I found one notice looking for creditors of a "late" ancestor, I knew his death date was not far before.
One ancestor immigrated from Devon, England and died in Montreal on December 20, 1875. So I turned to google newspaper archives to find his obituary. I had found quite a few ancestors in Montreal and area newspapers. So I started with a general name search... that was a no-go. So I clicked on the M to go browse the Montreal Gazette. Oh oh, one problem... there was no Montreal Gazette for 1875. So one by one I checked all the newspapers from Montreal that had issues digitized for around that date.
You can see by the dark "visited" link that I tried quite a few newspapers looking for my ancestor, and that is only the ones with the word Montreal in the title. These are the papers that supposedly covered 1875, although I found that not all papers had any issues for either the month, or they skipped the year 1875 completely.
Looking at the Montreal Daily Witness, I must say I almost didn't find it, as under December 21st, there were issues for December 23, 24, 27 - but not one issue for December 21st.  So you have to check around dates that are close. Finally for Wednesday December 22, 1875 I found it! 
 Notice right after the obit is says "Halifax NS and Charlottetown PEI papers please copy". I have seen this after a few obituaries and I wonder if it means they had relatives there? Hmmmm something to look into!
I found many of my ancestors the same way at British Newspaper Archives, at FindMyPast and some US newspaper sites.
Do you have tenacity?
** As a side comment for those of you searching in Montreal, The Montreal Daily Witness, a religious and literary paper, has what they title a "Colonne Francaise" with news from the French community. It is also available at BANQ Newspaper Collection.

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