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Ask a Genealogist: Researching obituaries in newspapers.

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Question:

My question is in regards to newspaper death notices. I was hoping to find obituaries or notices of death in the Boston Globe. I tried my hand searching images of the paper for the entire month and could not find anything for either. What were the practices at the time regarding obituaries/death notices? Was it presumptuous for me to think there would have been a notice? Did it cost money to put a notice in the paper? Is it possible they would have put the notice in only a paper they read?

Answer:

Reply from Alice Kane, NEHGS Genealogist

Placement of a death notice or obituary is entirely the choice of the family. Often but not always a notice is a paid item. Early death notices in the United States were very basic in noting the name of the deceased, his/her place of residence, and date of death. Occasionally, some bits of biographical information is noted. Information about surviving family members as well as a full biographical sketch of the deceased became part of death notices by the nineteenth century, and some newspapers kept writers on staff just for obituaries.

Most notices of death typically appear 7-10 days after the date of death when searching daily newspapers. The time frame depends on the frequency of the publication (daily, weekly, semi-weekly, etc.) as well as the mode and speed of communications. For your particular project, Boston had nearly a dozen daily newspapers that include the Boston Globe. A full list of Boston newspapers on microfilm at the Microtext Department of the Boston Public Library is available at http://www.bpl.org/research/microtext/BostonNewspapers.pdf . The next newspaper titles to check for death notices include the Boston Herald, the Boston Traveler, and the Evening Record. Joseph and Mary Ann Holmes lived in the Dorchester area of Boston, and I recommend also checking at the Microtext Department the microfilms of the weekly Dorchester Beacon for mention of the passing of the Holmes.

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