FamilySearch and subscription newspaper site GenealogyBank have partnered to increase the online searchability of more than 100 million newspaper obituaries containing an estimated billion “records” (names).
The obituaries come from newspapers in all 50 US states and date from 1730 to the present. According to FamilySearch, once the obituaries are indexed, the index will cover about 85 percent of US deaths over the past decade alone. FamilySearch predicts that this obituary database will quickly become one of the most popular databases on FamilySearch.org.
In addition to a date and place of death, obituaries can provide names of survivors and their relationships to the deceased, the deceased’s date and place of birth, and information about his life. Even recent obituaries are helpful, especially when trying to find living relatives or birth information on people whose vital records are recent enough to fall under privacy restrictions.
For example, here are some clues in a March 2, 1884, Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for my third-great-granduncle Frank Thoss:
Newspaper obituaries are usually relatively easily indexed with optical character recognition (OCR) software, which automatically “reads” the words in a digitized image and puts them into a database so you can search them with a name, place or other keyword. But OCR has its limitations: It misinterprets words when the image quality isn’t optimal (common with digitized newspapers). And it of course doesn’t know if a word is a name, place or something else; or if a person named is the deceased, a spouse, child or other relative.
FamilySearch volunteers can create an index that more-accurately captures names and places, and pairs a survivor’s name with his relationship to the deceased. This would make the information a lot easier to search.
The partnership announcement didn’t give specific details about what FamilySearch and GenealogyBank will contribute, and where you’ll be able to access the index and the digitized obituaries. My guess, based on past partnerships, is that FamilySearch volunteers will index obituaries from newspapers on GenealogyBank, and that the index will be searchable on both FamilySearch.org and GenealogyBank. The FamilySearch.org index would likely link to GenealogyBank, where subscribers can see an image of the obituary, and visitors to a FamilySearch Center would be able to use the center’s computers to access the obituary images for free.
If you want to start searching for free online obituaries for your ancestors now, check out our Top Free Websites for Obituaries video class.