My Mom, Patricia (Hanley) Stuart, passed away on 8 January 2008 while I was teaching at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I remember exactly when I received the call from my sister, Linda. I was eating a hot fudge sundae at JBâ€™s in the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel with a friend while another friend was massaging my neck and shoulders already tight from stress and not enough sleep. Mom always did things on HER own schedule! That night I stayed up â€˜til the wee hours of the morning writing Momâ€™s obituary and a tribute to her.
It got me to thinking. Whether you use paper to record your family history or a software program such as Family Tree Maker, are you up-to-date? I mean, have you entered all recent family data, logged those cute new family additions, added marriages and spouses, checked for your family in the Social Security Death Index, gathered obituaries, funeral cards, and even prepared questions for the next family gathering of any kind?
Hatched, Matched, and Dispatched
My apologies to whoever created that phrase as I am tailoring it. Today, we add other events to the basic three–born, married, and died. Adoptions, step-siblings, foster children, engagements, partnerships, commitment ceremonies, marriage contracts, divorces, burials, cremations, and memorial services are also important family events to be documented. I am always asked how to include things that donâ€™t fit the genealogy software fields; notes and memo sections are great for that. Genealogy software continues to evolve to include more such events and some allow for tailoring of event and relationship labels.
Genealogists, Obituaries, and Tombstones
I enjoyed writing Momâ€™s obituary and the tribute because, as a genealogist, I wanted to include as much detail as my Dad could afford for the paid obituary. I had tears, but also had some nice memories as I wrote. I wanted to include both birth and death dates, her parentsâ€™ names, her high school and graduating year, that her sister had died five years previously on the same date, marriage date, and the names of all children, spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren, as well as her wonderful caretakers. My family added her main doctorâ€™s name. Be sure to have someone else review your writing.
The tombstone is out of my control as far as extra details because it is a military headstone in Fort Snelling National Cemetery due to my Dadâ€™s WWII Army Air Corps service. However, a genealogy friend told me about the tombstone she already ordered for herself, with all the life details to make it a future genealogistâ€™s dream. Have you thought about your own family details for obituaries and tombstones? Many genealogists have already begun their own obituaries. Whenever I see an obituary that mentions the word genealogy or that the person is a member of ABC Genealogy Society, I smile. If you write at least part of the obituary, the word genealogy is more likely to be spelled correctly!
Family Group Sheets
A friend told me it took two years to add her motherâ€™s death date to the genealogy software she uses. I havenâ€™t been able to do that yet. But, what if something happens to you? Who will enter the details for future genealogists? Will they remember Cousin Nancyâ€™s death date and place or will your second cousinâ€™s son who died young be added?
Funeral Guest Books
Have you asked family members to either save these for you or to allow you to make photocopies? On the photocopy, make notes as to who each person is and the family connection if there is one. My grandmother had old funeral cards and programs that gave me some family details. We are also making notes on the sympathy cards so everyone knows if the sender was a relative, friend, or co-worker.
Social Security Death Index
When was the last time you checked the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for your less-common surnames? Check it for those distant cousins you last corresponded with in 1992 or elderly relatives you have not been in contact with. Check the SSDI each time it is updated. Armed with a date and the place, you can begin a search for an obituary.
Your Holiday Notes
Make time to review the holiday letters, notes on greeting cards, and photos you received from family over the past few months. Middle names, graduations, weddings, births, places of residence, names of colleges, and other details can probably be gleaned. Be sure to add the source of the details you add in case Aunt Dorothy mistyped a date. Even these things need to be verified.
Even If It Is Difficult
As the historians of our families, it is important for us to ferret out the details and add them to our family history. It might be difficult, but wouldnâ€™t our jobs be easier if earlier generations had added such details to their own records. We can set an example for the rest of our family and for future generations.
Pay Attention to Details
If you did read this column fully, you would be able to put together a good picture of my family. Names, dates, places, relationships have been mentioned. You could take these details and do a lot of searching on Ancestry.com and other websites. For much of your own family details from a death record or obituary, you might easily find birth dates, siblings, children, marriage dates, divorce dates, cousins, and ancestors. Now go back and review your own familyâ€™s 2007 pictures, graduation, birth, and marriage announcements, and holiday letters again. What clues did you miss?
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, a Minnesota resident, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on the road. She coordinates the American Records & Research Course at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at < PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com> or via her blog www.PaulaStuartWarren.blogspot.com. She regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed (e.g., Salina, Kansas).
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Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG