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April 16, 2011

Using an Obit to Find Other Records For an Ancestor

Recently I found an obituary in a Wisconsin newspaper for my son's great-grandfather Michael Niland. I didn't know too much about Michael before reading his obit, only that he was born in Ireland circa 1846, arrived in America circa 1870 and was married twice.  I had his wives' names and the names of seven children.

Michael's obituary was one of those finds that we all dream of - providing me with his County of origin in Ireland, his first wife's death (she was my son's great-grandmother), his year of immigration and confirming the names of five of his children.  Those were the genealogical facts. But the obituary also included some descriptive text about Michael himself - his character and some interesting tidbits of information.

We have to remember that an obituary is only as accurate as the knowledge of the person who wrote it.  It's unlikely that Michael wrote his own obit so the newspaper account is suspect unless we can find evidence to support it. That's where the fun starts!

Michael died October 15, 1924 in Wauzeka Wisconsin. According to his obit he came from Co. Rosecommon Ireland in 1870 and married Mary Brennon in 1871. Perhaps I can find him in the 1871 census or on a passenger list. That's my first step so off I go to

The first hit was for Michael in the US Naturalization Records indexes on . The index doesn't tell me much that is new, but it does provide information I need to send for his Naturalization records. He was born 23 June 1846 in Ireland,  66 years old, living in Wauzeka, applied at the courts in Prairie du Chien, Crawford Co. Wisconsin on 20 May 1913. His certificate number is F-23. I'll use that information to hunt or send for his papers.

The next find was Michael age 34, his wife Mary and three children in the 1880 census in Marietta, Wisconsin. Here he is listed as a farmer which makes me wonder if there might be land records for him. His wife Mary is age 30 born Ireland so now I have an estimated date of birth for her of 1850. I want to check the image and not just the transcription because neighbours are sometimes relatives. Aha - living with Michael is a Thomas Niland age 36 born Ireland. I'm betting Thomas is a brother but I can't put that in my genealogy program without some proof. But it's a great extra bit of information as now I can look for Thomas as well as Michael in the records.

I wasn't having much luck finding Michael in the 1870 census so there's a good chance he arrived after the census was taken. I didn't spend too much time searching for a ships passenger list but will do that another day. I did find evidence supporting the obituary claim that his first wife (Mary Brennon) died in 1889 although this record gives her date of death as 24 February 1889 which differs from the obit death date of 3 October 1889.  I'll have to do some work to resolve that discrepancy.

Next I plan to find Michael in 1900, 1910 and 1920 Census, plus look for his children in various online records. I'll also hunt for Thomas (in the 1880 census with Michael) and see if I can find his name on a passenger list on , or in another census record.


Lori H said...

Obituaries are one of my favorite research sources. I can't tell you how many brickwalls have been knocked down by those records. I have been trying to post obituaries on just in case I might be able to help someone else with their research.

Larry said...

Obits are great! Like others, brick wall have come down. I also like the way you wrote your process and what path you are taking next to resolve things you learn. This is a big help to others who may not have thought about what to do next. What else they should do. I always ask for suggestions about what to do next when I am looking for info. Sometimes it sends you to a whole new path you hadn't thought about.