Monday, August 16, 2010

The Value of Obituaries

An item that can prove invaluable to a genealogist's quest, the obituary is nevertheless often overlooked.  One can find a wealth of information within these short blurbs, such as married names of female descendants, residences, occupations, church membership, etc. - each providing yet another avenue to pursue in learning all that we can about our ancestors.  Obituaries can also help solve genealogical mysteries and knock holes through a brick wall or two.

A week ago I posted about requesting some Robak obituaries from the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan to help tackle some outstanding issues I'm currently facing, the main one being the immigration brick wall.  In addition to the obituaries (which arrived in less than a week!!), I had requested a death certificate for great-grandfather John Robak from Monroe County.  The same day I made my request, I received a call from a very helpful woman at the County Clerk's office because there was no record of John's death in their files.  The obituary that I'd requested now had the potential of playing a role in dismantling two brick walls.

As to the first issue, the obits for John and his wife Viola did little to shed light in the immigration problem.  One of the arrival years I already had was 1906, and both of their obits echoed this fact.  Same with their country of birth, but I was able to learn that they married on September 12, 1902, when all I'd had before was a census estimate of 1903.  Unfortunately, no names of parents or siblings was given.

Significant light was shed upon the matter of John's death, however.  It turns out that John had died while visiting his daughter Rose, who's house was located just across the county line in Wayne County.  This explains why Monroe County had no record of his death, since the event actually occurred in a different county.  Not only was that mystery solved, but I was able to add several other lines to the family tree by discovering the spouses of all of John and Viola's children.

If you can find them, they're definitely a valuable source.  All that being said, they are comprised of second-hand information which can be vague and even contradict official records.  Keep that in mind.

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