Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday's Tip: Obits vs Death Certs (Dig Deeper!)

Sometimes a death record is more informative than an obituary...and then there are other times when the opposite is true. Here's a case where digging deeper to get the obit was a phenomenal help and broke down a long-standing brick wall.

I've been looking for Benjamin McClure's ancestors. He's my hubby's great-great-grandfather and for years I've actively sought his parents' names.

The very nice folks in Friends of Falls Cemetery in Wabash, Indiana, have photographed his grave for Find a Grave and "calculated" relationships with other relatives buried there (correctly). They (and I) had no way of knowing that Benjamin didn't die in Wabash--he died in Conway, Michigan.

Finally, I got a clue and checked Family Search's Michigan Deaths/Burial Index, finding this:

Just to be sure, I ordered the microfilm and checked it and this is a mostly accurate transcription, from a ledger book that summarizes all deaths in Michigan, by county, during that year. I just didn't believe everything it says. The birth year is right, but the death date is one day off. And it's VERY unlikely that Benjamin and his parents were from New York, and the name "Enos" appears nowhere else in the family. What I really needed was to see his obit.

The kind librarian in Petoskey, Michigan (near Little Traverse) sent me Benjamin's obit from the Petoskey Record of February 26, 1896. It told me that Benjamin, the father-in-law of locally-known Reverend John J. Cook and father of Mrs. John J. Cook, had died at Conway after a short illness. His body was brought back to Wabash, Indiana, where he had resided for nearly 52 years, but no mention was made of McClure's birthplace or other survivors.

Posting a query on a Wabash genealogy message board, I got a note from a historian who told me that Benjamin's obit had appeared in two local Wabash papers, and he gave me the dates, suggesting I send for these. I tried a few different ways to get the obits from libraries, but no luck.

Then I joined the Indiana genealogy Facebook group and, from one of their posts, got the idea to contact the Indiana State Library.

Bingo! They quickly sent me the obit (excerpted at left) for Benjamin -- which includes his likeness. It includes a very complete family history. Benjamin, as I strongly suspected, wasn't born in NY, he was born in Ohio. His parents were John McClure and Ann McFall McClure. What a gold mine!

Thank you, wonderful librarians of Indiana State Library! Now I have literally dozens of leads to follow, including exact counties where the McClures lived and the dates. Digging deeper made the difference.


  1. I love finding an obituary that shares something you wouldn't otherwise find. How exciting for you!

  2. Oh, Elizabeth, this really was a breakthrough. I hope you've been having as much luck!

  3. Hi Marian,

    That was a great story and breakthrough. It never ceases to amaze me how kind fellow family history researchers are. I always try to pass the kindness on.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  4. Jim, thanks for reading...and I agree with you, I try to "pay it forward" by helping other genealogy researchers! This is an amazing community of caring people.