By Teri Barnett
Many genealogists researching their family tree look to newspapers to find obituaries, birth announcements, and other items to gain more insight into the lives of their ancestors and to tell their story. Many times, researchers who cannot come to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to search for obituaries themselves will send in a request for me to look up an obituary. This is because the ALPLM has at least one title from each of Illinois’ 102 counties, which results in over 100,000 reels of microfilm! Many times, we have newspapers that other libraries do not.
When someone submits a request for me to look up an obituary in a specific newspaper, I always look at all the newspapers we could have for that person with their date and location of death. I always recommend getting all the obituaries for an individual because they provide a rounder picture of that person.
Newspapers will publish the information that fills the space they have available. As a result, there may be information in one newspaper that is not in another.
For example, I received a request to look up the obituary for Corinne E. Armstrong, who died January 1, 1909, in Lincoln, Ill. The obituary published in the Lincoln Daily Courier on gives her full name Corinne Edna Armstrong and states the names of her parents, her date of birth and the cause of her death. When we look at her obituary published in the Lincoln Herald a few days later, we again see the names of her parents and the date of birth, but we do not see the cause of death and only see her middle initial instead of her full name. Instead we see that she and her family had only recently moved to Lincoln from the Southern part of Illinois.
In another example, a researcher requested the obituary for Bertha Louise Kent, who died in Springfield, Ill., on October 6, 1958, but lived near Morrisonville, Illinois. The Illinois State Journal (Springfield) and the Taylorville Breeze-Courier, both published on October 7, 1958, contain very similar information, but the Breeze-Courier mentions the name Lou, which is probably what people commonly called her.
When we look at the obituary published in the Morrisonville Times, the newspaper published in the community where she lived, we find a plethora of information, but we don’t see that she commonly went by Lou.
After providing obituaries, I always hear from the researcher that there was information they didn’t know. That is why getting all the obituaries you can on an individual is vital in filling out their story.
When submitting a request for an obituary to be looked up, please provide the full name and date and location of death of the individual in question. If they died in Decatur, but lived in Assumption, then please provide that information as well. I then know that if I cannot find an obituary in the Decatur newspapers, I should look in the Assumption newspaper if we have one available.
Please keep in mind that if an obituary is not found, it does not mean that an obituary was not published. It depends on the time frame of the death and what newspapers on microfilm we have in our collection. You can view the newspapers we have in our collection at https://presidentlincoln.illinois.gov/il-newspapers-by-city
Barnett is the ALPLM newspaper librarian. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.