April 19, 2011

Using Obituaries to Find Married Names --Tuesday's Tip



Let’s say you’ve found a census record that lists a husband and wife with their unmarried sons and daughters. Your direct ancestor is one of those children, but you can’t find all the answers you seek in his or her own records. Or maybe an important record is missing. One of the best ways to find answers in that situation is to do some research on the other children. It’s easy to trace the boys through later census, land, and death records, because male surnames don’t (usually) change. But what about the girls?

If a daughter married, and you don’t know her husband’s name, it can be difficult to trace her in later life and death. A natural first step is to look for a marriage record. If you find one, excellent! But if you don’t, try other options. Some death indexes, such as “Ohio Deaths 1909-1953” on FamilySearch.org, index by father’s name (if reported on the death certificate) as well as by name of the deceased. So you may be able to find a daughter’s death certificate by entering her father’s name in the search box. This will give you her married name at the time of her death. Another place to look for daughters’ married names is in the father’s will or estate settlement.

But one of my favorite ways to uncover married names is through obituaries. Newspaper obituaries are such a potentially rich source of information that it’s worth the effort to track them down. Granted, I’ve found my share of single-line death notices that reveal no new information. But when you find a good one, it can be a gold mine. Search for obituaries of the woman’s father, mother, and known siblings. If more than one paper was published in the locality at that particular time, it’s usually worthwhile to check them all. Don’t discount the small weekly papers that circulated news in rural areas.

In the following obituary for my great-grandfather, John Llewellyn Eberhard, published in The Columbus (Ohio) Evening Dispatch on January 8, 1953, I found the married names of his eleven daughters:

EBERHARD—John L, age 78, at his home in Galena, Tuesday. Survived by his wife, Mary; 11 daughters, Mrs. Eva Wilt, Mrs. Nora Ballenger, Mrs. Blanch Hendrix of Columbus, Mrs. Mable Dixon, Mrs. Irma Hollis of Sunbury, Mrs. Emma Hollis and Mrs. Carrie Hollis of Westerville, Mrs. Anna Fichtelman of Westerville, Mrs. Bertha Milton of Newark, Ohio, Mrs. Georgia Garee of Galena, Mrs. Mildred Gilliland of Hawaii; 4 sons, Roy of Columbus, Harold of Westerville, Enoch of Johnstown and Robert of Johnstown; 31 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. from the residence at Galena, Ohio. Burial Otterbein Cemetery, Westerville, Ohio, under the direction of the DeVore Funeral Home, Delaware and Galena.

That’s a lot of names! But even if the obituary you find gives only one, it’s still a bridge to other records. Better yet, obituaries often state relationships directly (son, daughter, brother, sister, etc.), and can be used to tie families together in the absence of vital records. So the next time you’re stumped for a woman’s married name, try hunting for the obituary of one of her parents or siblings. You never know what you might find there.


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