When you’re working with scant information, several obituaries can come together to expand and enhance your previous research.
This post is one of two that documents the process of tracing family members starting with obituaries. For part two, click here.
Imagine you are helping a relative clean out the home of an ancestor who has recently died. During the cleaning, you all come across a stack of obituaries/funeral programs for folks you think are related to you, but you’re not sure. If you’re anything like me, it doesn’t matter if there is a shred of doubt that the folks are related to you, you’re gonna take the stack and figure it out yourself. LOL
Before we begin, let’s get our terminology straight.
Obituary – Short definition: An article in a newspaper about the life of someone who has died recently. Full definition: A notice of a person’s death usually with a short biographical account. (1)
Funeral Program – A printed document given out at a funeral or memorial service that is usually prepared by the decedent’s family which outlines the key points in the funeral or memorial service and summarizes the life achievements of the deceased. (2)
We’re dealing with both obituaries and funeral programs in the instance of the hypothetical stack we received from our deceased relative’s belongings.
Keep the proper perspective when noting details mentioned within each document.
Everything written was created at the discretion of the writer/creator and can be entirely subjective. I’ve seen funeral programs that mention the decedent having a “sunny disposition” while those who remember the person have NEVER mentioned the decedent with this attitude; in fact they more often referred to them like Evaline from The Wiz. LOL On the same note, I’ve seen wives and outside children miraculously disappear when official records and oral history state they indeed existed. This means we should use the Genealogical Proof Standard when assessing each of the facts presented. That means conducting an exhaustive search and getting at least sources for each fact mentioned. Of course it would be much easier to just to take what the obituary said as law, but that’s not sound research.
- I already know the outcome 🙂
- While anyone would read the details on the obits and jump right into online research, there’s a possibility that information could be missed by doing so. So, we’ll start with the analysis of each obit/program. I suggest opening the links in one window for review and then leaving this window open for comments.
- For the sake of both posts, we’ll say that the deceased ancestor we got these obits/programs from was an unmarried maternal grandmother with the surname Atlas who was born and raised in Lake Providence, LA and lived in Chicago, IL during her life.
- I’ve written this post to share how I extract all of the info below into my genealogy database that’s kept mostly offline. 99% of what I’ve typed here is in the database.
- [See my comments on each]
- In part 2, we’ll cover how to use this offline information to find more info online and offline.
- Birth Date: 1892 [A year is just as good as a full date]
- Death Date: 1969 [Ditto]
- Titled “Obsequies.” [What in the world is that?] “A funeral or burial rite – usually used in plural.” (3) [Now that we’ve got that straight…]
- Service Details: Saturday, November 29, 1969 at 11:00am at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2151 West Washington Boulevard, Chicago IL 60612, Rev. Jessie Taylor, Acting Pastor; Rev. Alfred Davenport, in charge of pulpit. [Important info here. African American families typically hold their services at the church or mortuary the decedent’s family attends or utilizes.]
- Burial: Old Lincoln Cemetery [Program doesn’t say where this is. Is it in Chicago or elsewhere?]
- Mortuary/Funeral Directors: A.A. Rayner and Sons [Af.Am. families are pretty particular when it comes to their use of cemeteries and mortuaries, sometimes going to only one for several generations.]
- People of Note: Remarks: Sister Arlene Brooks, Active Pallbearers: Joseph Scott, Harry Scott, Cordell Atlas, Charles Atlas, Joseph Atlas, Edward Atlas. [Atlas, Brooks, and Scott are family surnames]
- No bio. [YUCK! LOL]
- Source: [Funeral of deceased]
- Birth Date and Location: Not listed, Jackson, MS [Mississippi and Louisiana are neighboring states; Jackson isn’t far from Lake Providence, LA]
- Death Date: January 25 ????
- Wife: Esther Singleton
- Address: 2322 Maypole [Obit doesn’t say where this is. Is it in Chicago or elsewhere?]
- Burial: Burr Oak Cemetery [Obit doesn’t say where this is. Is it in Chicago or elsewhere?]
- Service Date: January 30 ????
- Mortuary/Funeral Director: Metropolitan Funeral Parlors, A.A. Rayner, Undertaker [While the name of the mortuary is different than the one on previous obit, it’s safe to assume there is a connection between A.A. Rayner Mortuary and Metropolitan Funeral Parlors. One probably preceded the other.]
- Source: [This definitely an obituary not a funeral program. What newspaper was this featured in? Are there other family obits placed in the same paper?]
- Birth Date and Location: 1915, September 7, 1915 in Lake Providence, LA [Tie to maternal grandmother’s birthplace]
- Death Date: 1972 [No exact date mentioned; likely in late February 1972 based on funeral date]
- Service Details: Saturday, March 4, 1972 at 11:00am at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2151 West Washington Boulevard, Chicago IL 60612, Rev. J. Taylor, Pastor; Rev. B.T. Martin, Assistant Pastor. [Same church as Alma’s, just 3 years later. Rev. Taylor has gone from acting pastor to pastor.]
- Burial: Lincoln Cemetery [Same cemetery as Alma’s]
- Mortuary/Funeral Directors: A.A. Raynor and Sons [Same mortuary as the previous two.]
- People of Note: Solo: Rev. Alfred Davenport [Was in charge of pulpit at the Alma Singleton funeral in 1969], Active Pallbearers: Cordell Atlas, Joseph Atlas, Harry Scott, Joe Scott [Atlas and Scott are family surnames; same pallbearers as the Alma Singleton funeral]
- Bio Details: Daughter of Burrell and Alma Singleton [Previous obits/programs mentioned above]; one of 4 children; church membership: Central Baptist Church, Rev. Jessie Kent in Lake Providence, LA; moved to Chicago in 1943 [she was 26 years old]; joined Metropolitan MBC [Same church funeral was held at. This confirms my notation above of family likely being members of this church], member of club number four, Mrs. Arlene Brooks, president [This name was on the funeral program for her mother, Alma, under “Remarks”]; daughter: Regina Singleton, sister: Ruby Carter [We’re missing 2 other siblings. What are their names?]; brother in law: David Carter [likely Ruby’s husband], aunt: Louise Atlas [No other aunts and uncles mentioned; have they died before the decedent? First mention of a relation to an Atlas in the three obits/programs].
- Source: [Funeral of deceased]
So far, we’ve got:
- A set of parents and a child/two generations covered with three obituaries
- A possible family church
- A possible family mortuary
- One alleged relational tie to the Atlas family with the names of other Atlas’ mentioned in the services.
- An alleged tie to the birthplace of the ancestor who left the obituaries/funeral programs.
- Birth Date and Location: November 24, 1939 in Lake Providence, LA [Tie to maternal grandmother’s birthplace]
- Death Date: April 13, 1996
- Service Details: Thursday, April 18, 1996 at 8:00pm, Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 South Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60621
- Burial: None mentioned.
- Mortuary/Funeral Directors: None mentioned
- Bio Details: Only child of Helen Claudine Hill and James Burrell Singleton [Name repetition – Burl Singleton, could be a child of Alma and Burl above], raised by grandmother, Elmer Anderson, attended Hadley Technical High School in St. Louis, graduated in 1958. [Was in St. Louis by age 19], church membership: Ephesians Baptist Church, Reverend Taylor [This is my maternal grandfather], married Joyce M. Sinquefield [no maiden name mentioned] in 1959 and divorced in 1967, lived in Chicago from 1963-1967, returned to St. Louis and lived there from 1967-1981, moved back to Chicago and lived there from 1981-1997, employment: railroad, Palmer House, married Gwendolyn [no maiden name mentioned] in 1980, daughters: Angela, Claudina, Pamela, Christine (deceased); cousin: Rev. Regina Singleton-Hillman-Durr [listed as daughter on program of Beatrice Singleton], sons in law: Duncan R. Ellington, Sr., William Howell, III, grandchildren: Duncan R. Ellington, Jr., Angela Ellington, Joy Ellington, Gwendolyn Ellington, Christopher Ellington, Givonne Lumpkin, Kanyce Howell, Christian Howell, Patrick J. Singleton, Tyree Johnson. [Isn’t it awesome that it lists the ages of all the grandchildren!!!]
- Birth Date and Location: November 7, 1965 in Chicago, IL
- Death Date: September 17, 1989
- Service Details: Sunday, September 24, 1989 at 8:30pm, Gatlings Chapel, 10133 South Halstead, Chicago, IL 60628, Rev. Regina S. Hillman-Durr, officiating [Same relative as mentioned on the programs for Beatrice Singleton and James Clyde Singleton]
- Burial: Monday, September 25, 1989 at 10:00am at Oakland Memory Lanes
- Mortuary/Funeral Directors: Gatlings
- Bio Details: Fourth of four children of James C. Singleton and Joyce M. Singleton-Sinquefield [Youngest of those listed on the program of James Clyde Singleton, noted as deceased in 1996], baptized at St. Paul MB Church. Church membership: Center of Hope Ministries Rev. Regina S. Hillman-Durr in 1988 [age 23, the year before she died], Schools: Clara Barton Elementary, Visitation High School, Children: Famis Crawley (deceased), Patrick Singleton [mentioned in program for James Clyde Singleton], sisters: Angela D. Johnson (Tamaigo), Claudine M. Ellington (Duncan), Pamela Lumpkin (Anthony), grandparents: Lucille and Alexander Turner [Mother’s maiden name revealed since we know the paternal grandparents names.
For review, we’ve got:
- A set of parents, one child (second mentioned, third possible), a granddaughter and possible grandson, and great granddaughter (1892-1996; 104 years of history)
- A possible family church
- A possible family mortuary
- One alleged relational tie to the Atlas family and the names of other Atlas’ mentioned in the services.
- Family locations: Lake Providence, LA, St Louis, MO, and Chicago, IL
- Names of likely living descendants
Is there anything I left out that jumps out at at you? What else would you note before you started doing more research online and offline?
Where would you look for information outside of the US Census? What would you look for offline?
Comment with those things below.
(1) “Obituary.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obituary>.
(2) Definition adapted from “Elegant Memorials.” What Is a Funeral Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://elegantmemorials.com/what-is-a-funeral-program>.
(3) “Obsequy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obsequy>.