Saturday, April 07, 2007

Analysis of an Obituary

I spent over an hour yesterday analyzing and entering data into my computer which I found in the obituary of my grandaunt, Bertha Wilma (VALK) MEYERING KRAMER. I read every single fact, finding much new (to me) information, which rather surprised me, as I thought I had quite a bit of information on her already. One of the things I love about the family tree software that I have--RootsMagic--is that is has something called a SourceWizard. After I've added or edited a fact, I can then click on the SourceWizard button, and a window pops up in which I can choose one of 34 different types of sources, ranging from electronic resources such as's Ancestral File to "typical" genealogical sources like a will. Choosing a source then generates a form specific to that source. For instance, when I chose "obituary" as a source, a form opened up with the following fields: Name of the deceased person, Title of the newspaper (i.e. Los Angeles Times), Publish date of the newspaper, and Page and column number of obit (example: page 7, column 1). Because the obituary I used came from the Internet, I could also have chosen "website" as my source, but "obituary" served my purposes better, and I used the URL where I found the obituary in place of the page and column number.

The great thing about the SourceWizard is it creates three types of citations: the regular (long), the short, and the bibliography version. You then can choose to edit the citation by listing the quality of the source (primary, secondary, questionable or unreliable), as well as type either the corresponding text from the source and/or your comments on the source itself.

You can also choose to enter information manually (without using the SourceWizard) for those times when your source doesn't seem to fit any of the 34 options. It's then that I pull out my copy of Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family History by Elizabeth Shown Mills as my guide.

While analyzing and entering data (32 new or edited facts!) I realized something: Bertha's surviving brother's wife, Gladys, was not mentioned in the obituary, although her widowed sisters-in-law were. I took a gander over to RootsWeb's Social Security Death Index and discovered that this sister-in-law had passed away in 2001, something I had not noticed when I analyzed the last obituary of this family (Granduncle Bob VALK, 2003).

After entering all of Aunt Bertha's information (which included data on her first and second husbands, as well as her children, step-children, siblings and sisters-in-law), I entered all the information found on Aunt Gladys' SSDI listing. If Gladys had been a direct ancestor, or someone whose personal information might lead to the tearing down of a brick wall, I would have ordered a copy of her Form SS-5, the form she filled out when applying for her Social Security number. This would give me her birth date and place and parents' names, among other things. However, as she is a spouse of a step-relative, I did not want to pay $27 for information I can probably obtain through family sources. I left a Post-em (an electronic "sticky note" with a message and my contact information) in case another distant family member goes searching for her name in the SSDI, and then went over to Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness to request a copy of her obituary.

While there, I requested copies of obituaries of Aunt Bertha's first husband, Elmer MEYERING, and her mother, Ida Eva (LAMBRECHT) SCHADLER VALK. The last two are indexed in the obituary database of the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, although it took me months of searching for Ida's obit, since she's mistakenly listed as Ida "Vale" instead of "Valk."

After an hour of work, I had to move on to "real life" chores, but my to-do list includes adding Aunt Bertha's obituary to my website, editing her siblings' obituaries to include her name (I edit living person's information on my website, for privacy's sake), and creating a new GEDCOM and uploading it with all its new data to my online database at RootsWeb's WorldConnect. Not all the new data I entered will be visible to others; all information on living persons is filtered out, again for privacy reasons. I also need to contact Bertha's children for missing data, such as the specific locations where she and her first husband died (all I know is "Michigan"), their marriage location, the date and place of her second marriage, and birth information of her second husband. I will also invite them to submit family group sheets of their own families and, of course, share with them our VALK family history, as well as what I've found on the LAMBRECHT family (my step-great-grandmother).

This exercise was both revealing and frustrating: revealing because, as I've always discovered in analyzing my information, I came across so much more than what first meets the eye; but frustrating as I realized how much time went into citing things properly. As I've mentioned in the past, my older brand of family tree software did not have very user-friendly format for entering sources, so I chose to use the Note feature to record my sources. This was before I knew about proper citation format. I tried to always include the who, what, where, when, and sometimes why of each source, but nevertheless, I have a lot of cleanup to do to make my research meet proper genealogical standards. Even using the SourceWizard (which will cut time considerably), I have thousands of hours of work ahead of me! Well, as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither, I suppose is a family tree!

1 comment:

Craig Manson said...


I've been exploring new brands of software. There's nothing like a real, first-hand description like your experience using RootsMagic. I know everybody has their favorite, but thank you for sharing this experience. You may have provided the "tie-breaker" for me.