17 August 2014

How To Read An Obituary: Genealogy Tip of the Day - Expanded

Michael John Neill is one of my "go to" family history bloggers as he gives both new and veteran researchers useful tips. I pick and choose among his many fine hints to share with BDC customers, both in house and those of you whom I may never personally meet, oftentimes expanding on his hints by using examples from our own resources and applicable to Beaufort County's long and storied history. If you're interested in genealogy research techniques in general, you may want to sign up to get e-mails or a RSS feed for his "Genealogy Tip of the Day" blog. I particularly like this recent post: 

Genealogy Tip of the Day: Every Sentence: The next time you read an old obituary that you think is not helpful, stop at the end of every sentence. Ask yourself:
  • would this fact have generated a record?
  • have I looked for those records generated by the facts in this obituary?
  • how would the informant have known this detail?
  • is there a chance this statement is correct?
  • are the details in chronological order?
  • would one person have had first hand knowledge of all this information?
  • are there any details in this obituary that are inconsistent?

You could test yourself with this obituary from our card files about the drowning of Maj. Charles Pinckney Elliott in 1943.
Among the clues are his military service during the Great War, the location of his burial site, and that brothers married sisters in the immediately preceding previous generation, (i.e., that's how one gets three double-first cousins). Since it is purported that he tried to volunteer for World War II as an octogenarian, it might be fun to track down that rejection letter!

What clues are hidden in the obituary for Dr. Joseph Mellichamp that would further your research?
  • He was a medical doctor. Are there any databases in Ancestry Library Edition or FamilySearch that pertain to medical doctors?
U.S., Deceased Physician File (AMA), 1864-1968, p. 533 shows
  • His death occurred in Charleston County in 1903.  Was there a death certificate? 
Although South Carolina didn't require death certificates until 1915, Charleston and Spartanburg counties kept some local records of deaths before then.  Fortunately, Ancestry Library Edition database (available inside our facilities) has digital versions of the Charleston County death documents in the "South Carolina Death Records, 1821-1960" series. 

Charleston County Probate Court has some retrospective records of wills and estates for the period posted online. Dr. Joseph Hinson Mellichamp is not among the individuals surnamed "Mellichamp."
  • Since his funeral was at Grace Church, Charleston, is there a Charleston area newspaper announcement about his death, too? Because Dr. Mellichamp was from Bluffton, it would not hurt to check the Savannah area newspapers as well. 
  • Does the church have an archives that could indicate whether or not he was member of that congregation?  etc.

Every document you uncover during your quest to learn more about your ancestors, not just obituaries, deserves this interrogatory treatment!Your ultimate goal is to flesh out your past as fully as possible.  That is ever so much more fun than a "begatting" list similar to the one in the first chapter of St. Matthew.

Reminder of Schedule Adjustment, Aug. 19 - Aug. 25:  The Research Room is open 10 am - Noon and 1 pm - 5 pm Tues., Aug. 19 through Mon., Aug. 25th.  The Research Room will be closed for lunchtime due to a shortage of staff. Regular hours resume Tues., August 26th.  The 'Virtual BDC' remains open 24/7/365. (Find it under the "Local History" tab on the Library system's homepage.)

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