Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finding obituaries part 1

One of the difficulties I have in the Local History Room is having librarians and staff who work in the room and are unfamiliar with the resources we have at RCPL for genealogy. Individual training is very time consuming and class training is a scheduling nightmare so I am trying to use an intranet blog via Sharepoint to introduce the staff to strategies and use of databases for family history research. I thought you all might be interested in what I telling them. Just remember that I am focusing on RCPL databases so there is other stuff out there but I am not covering that. Below is the first post.

The Periodicals Department is the official public depository for The State newspaper. When The State newspaper is contacted about an obituary or an archived article their policy is to send the request to RCPL. They only handle requests for original photographs.

Perhaps the most common request for archived material from The State is for obituaries. Obituaries are very popular with family historians because they often contain information about parents and survivors.

We have many tools to help patrons find out if the obituary they are looking for has been published in The State. Different tools are used depending on the date of death. So the most important fact needed to locate an obituary is the date of death. Sometimes a patron doesn't know. You can make a stab with just a guesstimate. (Sometimes I ask them if they think the death was before JFK died or after).

If the death occurred from 1962 to present look in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). Social Security began in 1939 and there are deaths in the online index from 1939; however, they are few and far between. We have better tools for dates prior to 1962 that we will go over in future posts. The Social Security computerized system began in 1962 so it more reliable from 1962 to present.

Not everyone is included in the SSDI. Many federal employees do not pay into SS. Young people who do not have dependents will not be in the list. Sometimes someone who is elderly and has no benficiaries may not be on the list.

There are many free sites for the SSDI but I like the one in Ancestry. Ancestry is a paid subscription database and is only available to RCPL patrons in-house through Research Tools. Here is my method for getting to the South Carolina resources in Ancestry: 1. once you are in the database click the search tab. 2. Under Browse by location click SC on the map or click the text for South Carolina . Social Security is listed in SC Top databases.

Try searching for someone you know who has died in the last 40 years. If the name is unusual just plug in the name. If you get too many hits try adding information to one field at a time.

Many times SSDI will only provide a month and a year. If the death occured between 1962 and 1997 (approximately)the patron will have to browse through the obituary indexes located in Periodicals to find the exact date of the obituary. The indexing is a work in progress but, I think, we have enough indexed or alphabetized that browsing through a month of death lists will be quick. (I will go through all of the indexing in future posts).

Once they have located the name in the obituary indexes the obit can be located on microfilm.

If the death was after 1997 then work with Newsbank. It has obituary death lists from 1997 to present and the full text of an obituary from 1998 to present (we will go over Newsbank later, also). If the full text is not in Newsbank then the obit can be found on microfilm.

In SSDI, look for the death date of Silas Weaver who died in Columbia. Where would you send a patron to look for his obituary date? Hint-there are two answers. You only have enough info in this post for one answer but put on your thinking caps and see if you can figure out the other answer.

Looking for obituaries is not just for the genealogist. Often patrons need an obit for legal purposes. Sometimes we can use an obituary to help us locate an article in a time period that is not indexed by Newsbank.

One last thing, the SSDI is just an index. The original form that the individual filled out is available for a fee. That form includes the name of the decease's parents. The SSDI at Rootsweb will automatically generate a letter that can be sent to Social Security with a check, of course. I will add the rootsweb SSDI web address to the links section of LH.

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