As genealogists and family historians we often come across many obituaries as a source of information. Some have even created blogs which serve as a research resource for fellow genealogists by listing death notices for a specific family or a specific geographical location.
There are many different ways a death notice or obituary blog can be constructed. Focal points could include:
- listings for a specific family surname or specific family
- listings from a specific newspaper
- listings for a specific town, city or other geographical area
- listings for specific types of people such as Civil War veterans
- listings from a specific tragic event or an epidemic or outbreak of disease
When dealing with death records or obituaries, titles should be helpful for the genealogy researcher and not veer towards the humorous for fear of appearing insensitive.*
Here are some ideas:
- If the blog focus is obituaries from one specific newspaper, use the name of the newspaper in the blog title:
- Black River Democrat Obituaries
- Washington Post Death Notices
- If the blog focus is a specific town, city or geographical region, use the place name in the blog title:
- Lowville Obituaries
- Watertown Death Notices 1880-1922
* One exception might be a blog highlighting unique obituaries which use humor or unusual writing techniques such as written in the first person narrative style. There have even been vindictive obituaries. Such a blog could use an unconventional title such as Bizarre Obits, Weird Words from Beyond, etc.
To be honest, almost any template will do whether you use Blogger or WordPress as your blogging platform. But very often you want a certain look – a black background, something serene and peaceful, perhaps something library or newspaper related. If you do use a template with dark colors, make certain that the main text of the obituaries is on a white background – this is much easier on the eyes for those performing research.
The links below are for available templates with themes that might work for a blog focusing on death records or obituaries. Remember that free templates will require you to leave the designer’s attribution statement (usually in one of the lower corners or in the footer) displayed in the template.
- RS10 Dark – Blogger (free)
- Hemingway – Blogger (free)
- Minima Black – Blogger (free)
- Various dark themes – WordPress (free)
Your blog posts should contain information in a format most helpful for fellow researchers. Most blogs of this type are simple transcriptions of the death notice or obituary.
The number one complaint about obituary listings is the lack of source citation material. When noting the source, make sure you include the source title, publication location, date, volume and page number, etc. It would also be helpful to include a link back to the source if it is available online.
Although it may seem that an obituary or death notice is a mere statement of facts – and not an “original work” – the truth is that most obituaries are covered by the general copyright used by the source, in most instances a newspaper.
To be safe, items published prior to January 1, 1923 are deemed to be in the “public domain” and can safely be republished on your blog. Anything after that date and you should secure the permission of the original publisher. Using post-1922 obituaries would not necessarily fall under the “fair use” principle of copyright law since it pertains mainly to the use of text for purposes of comment and criticism.
Widgets and Gadgets
- AllTop does not have a feed specifically related to death or cemeteries or obituaries. However your readers might appreciate the genealogy feed that you can convert into a widget and post in the sidebar of your blog (Blogger; WordPress)
- Google Reader widgets can be created using your favorite food and recipe blogs. See Creating Topic-Based Widgets Using Google Reader’s Clip Function at Bootcamp for GeneaBloggers.
Categories, Labels and Tags
Any system of categorizing blog posts – either using categories, labels or tags depending upon your blogging platform – should be one that is most useful to researchers.
- cause of death (this can help identify possible epidemics and outbreaks of diseases)
- cemetery name
- church name
- last names
- locations (town, city, county)
- year of death
It is unlikely that you will post images along with the obituaries unless they are for either members of your family or well-known figures or if you have actual newspaper clippings of the death notice.
Make certain that you have rights to post the images including scans of newspaper clippings (see Copyright Issues above). If you have secured permission from a third-party to use the image, make certain you properly attribute the image according to their wishes.
Products and Gifts
Obviously this is not the type of blog that easily lends itself to being produced as a gift or keepsake. However, if there are family members who might be interested in reading the obituaries of their ancestors and they don’t have access to your blog, you might consider creating a self-published book with selected death notices.
Examples of Death Record or Obituary Genealogy Blogs
Here are some examples of death record/obituary blogs:
- Ancestors At Rest – search free death records for ancestors. Updates of genealogy death records and indexes online at AncestorsAtRest.com
- Lowville Obituaries – a listing of obituaries from Lowville, New York from the mid-19th century through 1922.
- Obituary Forum – yes there really is a Society of Professional Obituary Writers (“writing about the dead for a living”) and this blog discusses news and trends related to obituaries.
- Old Obituaries – transcriptions from my grandmother’s scrapbook . . . mostly Clark County, South Dakota.
- Roanoke Beacon Index Blog – Blog to accompany my online index to the Roanoke Beacon Newspaper of Plymouth, NC.
- The Dead Librarian – designed to help South Carolina family historians search for obituaries and death notices online.
©2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee