Access to a Billion Obituaries Will Help Families Find Ancestors

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 14 October 2014

Volunteers are needed to help make newly available death records—a rich resource of family relationships and dates—searchable online.

Article Highlights

  • Volunteers can help make obituaries from over 100 million newspapers searchable online.
  • Obituaries contain family members, locations, and dates that help with family history.

“The unique life stories written, dates documented, and generations of family members mentioned are often only found within an obituary, which makes them such an invaluable resource.” —Dan V. Jones, GenealogyBank vice president

Obituaries, a rich source of family history information, will be more accessible to Church members who are researching their ancestors, thanks to a new agreement announced October 1 between the Church’s FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank.com.

“Obituaries can solve family puzzles, tell stories, dispel myths, and provide tremendous help with family history research,” said Paul Nauta of FamilySearch public affairs. “Clues from a single obituary can lead to connections that ultimately bring temple blessings to many people.”

It is expected the agreement will result in making more than a billion searchable records from historical obituaries available online. The massive undertaking includes records from more than 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries from all 50 states, covering the period from 1730 to the present.

Dennis Brimhall, managing director of the Church’s Family History Department, which sponsors FamilySearch, explained that obituaries are extremely valuable because they tell the stories of ancestors’ lives long after they are deceased.

“Billions of records exist in U.S. obituaries alone,” he said. “The average obituary contains the names of about 10 family members of the deceased—parents, spouse, children, and other relatives. Some include much more. Making them easily searchable online creates an enormously important source for compiling our family histories. The number of people who will benefit eternally from this joint initiative is incalculable.”

Dan V. Jones, GenealogyBank vice president, said, “Obituaries, unlike any other resource, have the ability to add incredible dimensions to an individual’s family history research. They contain a wealth of information, including facts and details that help capture the legacy of those who have passed on. The unique life stories written, dates documented, and generations of family members mentioned are often only found within an obituary, which makes them such an invaluable resource.”

Volunteers are needed who can sort through the rich information provided in each obituary. To learn more, visit FamilySearch.org/indexing.

According to Brother Nauta, it will take tens of thousands of FamilySearch indexing volunteers to make GenealogyBank’s vast U.S. obituary collection more accessible online. While the obituaries are mostly typed and easy to read, volunteers are needed to identify the rich information contained in each obituary and then index (transcribe) the key facts for researchers to discover in FamilySearch’s vast online database.

More information about the initiative and opportunities to volunteer can be found at FamilySearch.org/Campaign/Obituaries. A training video, indexing guide, detailed instructions and telephone and online support are also available from the site if needed.