Obituaries can help you discover more about the life of an ancestor and can also fill in key family details such as a mother’s maiden name or a birthplace in Europe that you’ve been seeking. Once you have your basic research done and key family members charted, it’s time to hunt for obituaries.
If some of your ancestors lived in a small-to-medium-sized community served by a long-running newspaper, your search will likely be easier than in other situations. My greatest success so far has been in obtaining obituaries for ancestors who lived in New Holstein, Wisconsin. The town was founded in 1848 by people from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, and the community has a strong sense of pride in its history and people.
In fact, it was an obituary for Nicholas Boie, posted on a New Holstein genealogy Web site, that revealed my ggg-grandparents Nicholas and Cecilia Tonner Boie. Their oldest daughter Elise married the younger Ferdinand Hachez. I had known the Hachez name since childhood, but not the Boie name.
The New Holstein Public Library has a genealogy section on its Web page, and lists an “obituary index” among its holdings. Thanks to the helpful people at the library, I was able to obtain a list of obituaries of known family members — and also several in the “cluster” of in-laws worth reviewing.
Using Interlibrary Loan at my local library, I obtained the microfilms covering the relevant issues of the newspaper, the New Holstein Reporter. When you find the obituary, print it out and, as soon as you can, transcribe it so it is easy to share.
Transcriptions that I have done have recently been added to the New Holstein genealogy Web site’s obituary section, where I’d found Nicholas Boie.
Direct ancestors include:
Anna Margretha Groth Luehr, gg-grandmother
Clara Hachez Luehr, great-grandmother
William Henry Luehr, great-grandfather
Ferdinand E. Hachez, gg-grandfather
“Cluster” relatives include:
John August Hansen, who married Lena Boie, one of the younger sisters of Elise Boie Hachez. This obituary provided details on Ferdinand Hachez’s business in New Holstein.
Mathilde Agnes “Tillie” Boie Sebelein, the youngest sister of Elise Boie Hachez. While Elise (Mrs. Ferd. Hachez) is mentioned just once, the brief text provides a picture of the Boie siblings growing up on a farm south of town.
Just as with all documents, you must use care with the information in obituaries and seek corroboration from other records. See the note I provided at the end of the obituary for Ferdinand E. Hachez as a good example. If I had not viewed many census records and other documents, I would not have known that it was his ancestors who were born in Alsace Lorraine, not Ferdinand himself.
We’ll discuss obituaries again in the future. Good searching!
This is one in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.