Many times when we find an obituary of an ancestor or a member of a collateral family, we skim over the details without really taking it apart. I will list some obituaries that I have found or that I have copies of and analyze them part by part.
Funeral Services for John Lafe Johnson – Full name was John Lafayette Johnson, his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Lafe as there were many in the family named “John”. The inclusion and shortening of his middle name was to make sure that extended family knew precisely that this was their family member.
age 78 – Age is given so if there is another member of the community with a similar name, this information would be enough to differentiate them.
former resident of Anderson – He had lived in Anderson most of his life and was well known in that town, however he had not lived in that location for about 9 years. This information shows he still had family ties in that locale.
who died Sunday – Day of the week instead of the actual date.
at the home of a son, Glen Johnson, of Fairfield, O. – where the death took place. By saying “a” son, this seems to indicate that John had more than one son - which he did - however, the oldest, Letis, had been deceased for many years. This also gives the name of the son and where he lived.
will be held today at 2 p.m. in the Bob Waltz funeral home with the Rev. James H. Welsh, pastor of the East Lynn Christian Church in charge. – Day, time and location of funeral services. Provides information on what type of officiant will be handling the service. By naming a minister of a particular church, this is one way to deduct that the deceased had some affiliation either with the Pastor, that particular church, or that denomination.
Burial will be in Maplewood Cemetery. - Location of burial. No city is listed indicating that it is in the same city as the newspaper location (Anderson, Indiana).
The body will arrive at the funeral home this morning. – Indicates death took place in another location and the deceased will be transported to the funeral home this same morning.
Questions I have after reading this one include:
- How many children did John Johnson have?
- Who were his survivors and how are they related?
- What was his wife’s name?
- Was she still alive or had she died?
- Why was John at his son’s home?
- Why was that particular minister in charge of the funeral?
- Was he a member of the Christian Church in Anderson, Indiana?
- What was the exact date of death?
- Had John been ill?
- Was his death sudden?
- Was he a native of Anderson or had he been born somewhere else?
- Who were his parents?
- What occupation(s) had he held in his life?
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This clipping is very similar to ONE except for a four things. First: It states in bold headlines that “Johnson Funeral To Be Wednesday”. This suggests that the obituary ran at least a day or two prior to the funeral as opposed to ONE, which suggests the funeral is that same day. Second: Throughout the clipping, it also states Wednesday as the day of the funeral. This answers the question – what day of the week the funeral will be held. Third: this obituary states “East Maplewood Cemetery” instead of just Maplewood. This details the exact cemetery (as there is a West and East). Fourth: Adding on to the last sentence it states, “to lie in state until the hour of the funeral.” Now it is learned that the body not only will be transported to the funeral home, but there will be a time when visitors may pay their respects to the deceased and family until time for the funeral.
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I also have the original typewritten copy that my grandfather, Glen R. Johnson, prepared for the obituary. It reads:
JOHN LAFAYETTE JOHNSON, son of James W. and Amanda Johnson (nee Mullis) was born March 2, 1861 in Rush County, Indiana. His early boyhood was spent in and around Rushville and Kokomo, Indiana. While a very young man he settled in Madison County, near Anderson, Indiana. On July 4, 1883 he was married to Katie J. Blazer. To this union were born two sons, Letus W. and Glen R. In 1910 a foster daughter, Eva, came to bless the home. Letus, the older son, passed away in 1915. Shortly after coming to Anderson, Indiana, in 1889, to make their home they became identified with the Central Christian church and continued as active members until leaving there in March, 1930, due to illness of Mrs. Johnson, to make their home with their son Glen and family at Fairfield, Ohio. On May 20, 1930, Mrs. Johnson passed away and Mr. Johnson continued Living with his son until his death on May 28, 1939. In 1889 he entered the employ of American Steel and Wire Company at Anderson. In 1904 he entered business for himself as a fruit and vegetable peddler. After taking up his residence in Fairfield, he continued to sell fruit and vegetables during the spring and summer month, until the fall of 1938. Since January this year he had been in failing health, but did not become seriously ill until last Friday and died at 10:30 A.M., Sunday, May 28th, at the age of 78 years, 2 months, and 26 days. He leaves to mourn his passing his son Glen R. and daughter Mrs. Eva Skinner of Fortville, Indiana, and 4 grandchildren.
Extra details given include:
Parents names, including maiden name of his mother
Date and place of birth
Locales of his youth
Date and to whom he was married
Names of his children, including details about one son being deceased and what year and that his daughter was a “foster” daughter and the date she came to live with the family.
Year that he settled with his family in the town of Anderson.
Church he joined and was affiliated with.
Reason he and his wife left Anderson to move to Ohio with their son.
Date of his wife’s death.
His continuation to live with his son after his wife’s death.
Date of his death.
Year of his employment, company name, and location.
His own business venture and the date.
Continuation of his own business after moving to his son’s and the date he retired.
How long he had been ill.
Exact age at death.
Those family members who survive him.
If this obituary had been printed in full, I would also have these questions:
Is a funeral to take place?
Who will be in charge?
Where will he be buried?
As a genealogist, I long to find obituaries written in the form that my grandfather typed for his father. There is a wealth of information. More than ONE or TWO. THREE records a more accurate timeline of my great-grandfather’s life. Many questions asked of the first two clippings are answered in the typewritten obituary.
When you discover an obituary, disect it to see if it gives you the answers to pertinent questions. Sometimes I’ve been lucky to find not one or even two but three different obituaries for the same person. Then I need to disect each one to retrieve details that are exactly alike and then see what is left. More often than not, one or two items are conflicting. Possibly a survivor’s name is listed wrong or in my great-grandfather’s case, the middle name is shortened in the newspaper clippings but his full legal name is used in the typewritten obituary. There will always be unanswered questions, but being able to pick out each piece of information will give us a better understanding of our ancestors.