BIG Family History Clues in an Obituary

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Have you ever searched for an ancestor’s obituary? What information did it provide, their death date? Their surviving children’s names? In today’s post we take a look at all the rich details an obituary can provide to help you expand your family tree.

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The Obituary

In today’s obituary example, we have the clue-rich obituary of Mrs. Rebecca Thompson, who died in Lena, Illinois, in June of 1938.

Mrs. Rebecca Thompson, Lena

“Lena, Ill., June 20.- Mrs. Rebecca Thompson, passed away at her home Sunday evening. On the last day of May, she suffered a stroke of apoplexy and a severe heart attack, from which she failed to rally.

Frances Rebecca Donahue was born, Aug. 17, 1875, in Fredricksburg, Ky., where she lived until her marriage to Joseph A. Thompson. After their marriage, Mr. and Mrs.Thompson moved to East Texas, Ky., and from there to Durant, Indian territory, where they resided for a year. They then returned to Kentucky, remaining there until June 1913, when they moved to Freeport. Several years ago they came to Lena, where she has since made her home.

Besides her husband, she is survived by two daughters and two sons. Mrs. Joheph Michel, of Freeport. Mack Thompson of DeKalb. Mrs. Chris Dooley, Florence, Wis., and Charles Joseph Thompson of St. Louis, Mo., A daughter, Mrs. Fred Stark passed away in March 1937.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed., but services probably will be Wednesday morning. “

The Clues

In this obituary example, we get clues about the person’s date, place and cause of death, married name, maiden name, husband, children, date and place of birth, and locations she lived throughout her marriage. What a rich, clue-filled obituary that was. Kudos to whoever wrote that and gave such great details to lead us on in our family history search.

Clues for Mrs. Rebecca Thompson, as found in her newspaper obituary

The Questions

As with all genealogy documents, this one leaves us asking a few questions like: What caused the family to move to so many places? What was the husband’s occupation? What were the daughters’ names? (They were listed as Mrs. and then their husband’s name.)

Where to Research Next

This document also leads us to some next places to research and learn more about this ancestor and her family:

-Death certificate for Rebecca
-Marriage record for Rebecca and Joseph in Kentucky
-Birth record for Rebecca (although Kentucky was super spotty at keeping birth records during this time frame)
-1880-1930 US Censuses (should be able to follow her movements fairly well with the dates and locations given in the obituary)
-Children’s marriages and locations for the 1940 US Census

Websites to look for newspaper obituaries:



(I am not an affiliate with these sites, but use them often.)

Citation for this obituary:

“Mrs. Rebecca Thompson, Lena,” Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois), 20 June 1938,  p. 14, col. 5; image copy, ( : accessed 12 January 2015).

Link to this exact record:

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