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Look for Hidden Family Trees


One of the most frequent comments we receive from people tracing their ancestors is a desire for a pre-built family tree. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had already written out your family tree? It would certainly speed up the process of tracing your ancestors if you already knew who was related to whom.

In fact, most families already have published family trees; it is just not recognized as such. That’s because most people expect to see family trees in a certain format. When it is presented in a different format, people often do not recognize it.

Where do you find these hidden family trees? Try looking at an obituary. An obituary can provide a wealth of information about families, not just information about the deceased. This is because most obituaries can be divided into two parts. The first part talks about the deceased and the second part often talks about the family of the deceased.

Obituaries really are an underappreciated source of information for someone trying to construct their family tree. A surprising number of people researching their ancestors carefully study statements about the deceased and then give only a cursory glance to the names of family members listed in the obituary. However, a listing of immediate next of kin in an obituary can provide an excellent base for creating a family tree. This is because obituaries often list parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, children and grandchildren. A typical obituary lists two or three generations of a family.

Even though the information in an obituary is not laid out like a family tree, it serves the same purpose. Obituaries have other advantages for someone looking to construct a family tree:

• Obituaries tend to be fairly accurate and complete as they are usually written by a close family member.

• Obituaries are one of the few documents where family secrets are laid to rest. Often family connections that are not revealed when a person is alive (such as the presence of a black sheep in the family) are laid bare in an obituary. How many times have you read an obituary and asked yourself a question like “I never knew he had a brother” or “I never realized that was her second marriage”? Probably fairly often.

It really pays to look at obituaries. Not only does it provide clues about the deceased, it also can often provide excellent leads about the family of the deceased. Stitching together the names found in even a couple of obituaries can create the foundation for a pretty good family tree. So, the next time you read an obituary, read about the living as well as the dead.

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