As stated, I felt that Obituaries should have a separate entry being that they can provide additional information and details that can easily lead to more research opportunities.
In the Toledo area we are very fortunate that our Local History Department at the Main Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library will provide electronic copies of Obituaries published in the Toledo Blade for free. The Toledo Blade Obituary Index is provided via the Ancestry.Com site along with FamilySearch.org but you can also just go to their site directly, which I personally prefer and look up the person you are searching for. I prefer to go to the site because there is an option once you get a “hit” to request that they email you a copy of the obituary within two weeks. The library asks that you only make 3 requests per week. I make sure to follow those guidelines as I feel it is such a great service that they provide to us for no cost. Many other libraries around the country charge a minimum of $5-$25 for them to do this sort of research for you. So I am very appreciative of that.
This past year, I have probably put in a request for over 50 obituaries! The obits published in the Blade vary from just the list of deaths that are still published in the paper for public notices, to short write-ups to very extensive, in-depth obituaries. Some examples of obits are below:
Here is the obituary of Robert TRAYNUM Sr. He was the first of my TRAYNUM line to come to Toledo via the Great Migration from South Carolina. He died in 1933 and his address and cause of death was contained in his death notice. I found via using Google Maps that he lived a block from where I grew up in South Toledo! I also discovered that other TRAYNUM relatives actually lived across the street from where I grew up 70 years before and I never knew! His house is now a parking lot that I used to ride my bike in as a girl.
The earliest full Obituary that I’ve been sent is of James Edward ROBINSON, published in the blade in December of 1910 who I discovered had the nickname of “Bones.” The obit stated that Bones was one of the “one of the most well known negros” in the City due to his affiliation with an organization called the Toledo Cadets for about 40 years. Using information from his obituary caused me to look up the Toledo Cadets to learn about them. I found a book and purchased it about the history of the organization and was shocked that it included a copy of his picture! It is 120 years old and was published in 1896 and I feel very lucky to have found such a distant image of my 3rd great grandfather!
Interestingly the book also had a picture of William A Jones, the father of basketball legend William McNeill JONES written about in a previous post (Bill Jones – Basketball Pioneer). William JONES’ nickname was “Inky” and he also had an impressive obituary written up, which is below.
One of my favorite obituaries is of a 4th great uncle names Francis/Frank BURTON. Frank was born in Charlevoix County, Michigan, which is north of Saginaw and near the Petoskey area. Due to his obit mentioning that he worked for the WPA project on the Toledo Zoo Aquarium and Ampitheater, I think of him when I take the kids to the zoo. I loved that it spoke of what a hard working man he was and was surprised that it said he was a Potawatomi Indian. I have yet to see any other documentation of any native ancestry, but the area they lived in was a place where this tribe lived/resided at the time of Frank’s birth.
Other obituaries outside of Toledo I’ve found were primarily in the Ypsilanti, Michigan area whereas there is another blog similar to this one on the black history of Ypsilanti called South Adams Street 1900. Mary ENOS SNIVELY only had a death notice shown below. Her husband Jeremiah SNIVELY was a veteran of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and fought in the Civil War. He and three of his brothers, who were all living in Canada at the time, came back to the United States in order to serve to help free the slaves in America. Jeremiah died on the same day as another “colored veteran” also named Jeremiah as noted in his obituary. Since Jeremiah SNIVELY was stated to have been a GAR member I am hoping to do some digging into Michigan GAR records to see if a picture can be found for him. Jeremiah SNIVELY’s obit also says he was a Mason, as did William A JONES’ above. I’m unsure if the Mason’s keep records but I plan on finding out from my relatives who are still members of the organization here in Toledo to see if I can learn more information about those ancestors who were involved in that group.
So make sure to thoroughly review obituaries, even death records. I personally like looking up the homes where my ancestors lived via Google Maps. Many of them are still standing and in the case of my TRAYNUM ancestor it was interesting to know I played where his home once stood. The organizations that your ancestors were involved in, many of them kept historical records on members or they issued “Resolutions” that were read at the funeral and placed into safekeeping by that organization and many times you can request a copy. You may be fortunate enough like I was to find a 120 year old picture of a relative as well.
It is also important to take note that all the information contained in obituaries may not be true so to not rely 100% on that information. The reference to being a Native American in Frank Burton’s obituary, though interesting, I never believe these references to be true unless I find evidence to substantiate that claim. Many people white and black claim to be “Indian” when they really don’t have any Native American ancestry and it is just a family myth.