Guidelines for Researching Obituaries

Obituaries are a rather unqiue aspect of the culture of New Orleans.  There are few other places where they are so consistently reported or as rich in detail.   Today as many as three full pages of the newspaper are dedicated to this ongoing tradition.   The tradition began in the 1920's.   Obituaries before then usually only identified the deceased and his/her spouse.   Pre-1920's obituaries still contain valuable information but are less helpful in establishing genealogic lineage.  Post-1920's obituaries, however, contain a wealth of genealogic data, often including the names of children, siblings and parents, whether living or deceased.   Since most other publically available sources of genealogic data are inaccessible after about 1900, the obituaries provide a unqiue tool for extending family trees from the 19th century into the present.   Another incredibe and unique aspect of local obituaries is that they are indexed by surname at the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library.  A WPA project during the Great Depression was initiated to create the index and the work was continued until the early 1970's.  With the help of a few other resources to bridge the 30 year gap, everything is in place to create the comprehensive family charts of the Ustica Genealogy Homepage.

The goal of researching obituaries is to establish a chain of obituaries that extend back in time and across generations. Usually only one or two obituaries are need to establish a link with existing families in the UGH charts.

Step 1:   Check the UGH charts.   The deceased or any other relatives mentioned in the obituary may already be recorded in the charts.

Step 2:   Identify the names of deceased relatives mentioned in the obituary.   Obituaries will be either for a person born with an Usticese surname or the wife of males born with an Usticese surname.   In the latter case, the search can only continue if the husband bearing the Usticese surname is also deceased.   His obituary will need to be found next.   Obituaries for people born with Usticese surnames may conatain the names of deceased parents, siblings or both.   If no parents are mentioned then all of the deceased siblings should be researched until the parents names are revealed.

Step 3:  Search the on-line Social Security Death Index.   In most cases you will first need to bridge the 30 years that have passed since the NOPL obituary index was last updated.   The SSDI will give you a date of death so you can begin searching the newspaper microfilms directly.   Click HERE to get to the SSDI.   Next click on the Advanced Search button.   Enter the surname in the Last Name box and enter the first 3 letters of the given name followed by an asterix, i.e. Jos* for Joseph Anthony, into the First Name box.   Scroll down the screen to the Issue box and click on the pull-down arrow to the left of the box.   Choose Louisiana and then click on the Submit button to get the results.   This is a very efficient search but you may want to experiment with the options to make sure you have done a thorough search.   Often you will get multiple ambiguous results for common names.   These can sometimes be narrowed down by age or last residence, but it is best practice to simply research them all if time permits.   You should also check to see if some are not already recorded in the UGH charts.

Step 4:   Serach for on-line obituaries.   If the death date is from 1989 to present, you may be able to get the obituary online and skip the next two steps.   Click HERE to get to the Louisiana Library Databases.   You must have a Louisana Library card to enter.   Choose Newsbank and The Times Picayune.   For best results, search by Section with a value of Metro; and then All Text with a value of the surname you are researching.   Other Louisiana newspapers are available.

Step 5:   Research incomplete death dates returned by the SSDI search.   If the death date returned by the SSDI is missing the day component then you are faced with searching through an entire month of obituaries.   There are 4 resources that may help get an exact date of death.   If the date of death is between January 1972 and December 1978 then click HERE to get to the Jefferson Parish Public Library obituary search.   They picked up where the New Orleans Public Library stopped.   If the date of death is between January 1994 and March 2003 then click HERE to get to the Jefferson Genealogical Society obituary index.   JGS members are actively trying to fill the gap left by the NOPL and JPPL indexes.   Also quickly check my personal list for selected months.   Click Here.   I've been gleaning Usticese surnames whenever I have to go through a whole month of obituaries.   If you still can't get the exact date, then the NOPL Louisiana Division has a volume of hardcopy newspaper indexes for the years of the gap.   You may find a reference to the obituary by searching the index for the surname of interest.   Don't expect great results from this search.   If all else fails, then there is no option left other than paging through the entire month.   This is very tedious but often worth the effort.

Step 6:   Search the NOPL obituary index.   The index is arranged by surname and then first name and gives an exact reference to the page and column of each occurrence of the obituary.   Wives are listed under their husband's surname.   Also be aware that surnames can have many variations and are sometimes misspelled.   You will likely get multiple ambiguous results, especially for common male names.   These can sometimes be narrowed down by age, but it is best practice to simply research them all if time permits.   You should also check to see if some are not already recorded in the UGH charts.   Computers are available in the Louisiana Division so you can bring up the UGH while you are doing your research.   The NOPL obituary index is online but work is in progress and it is very incomplete.   Click HERE for access.

Step 7:   Submit your results for inclusion in the UGH charts.   Type the contents of the obituaries you have collected into an e-mail and mail it to Chris.   Please copy the entire obituary including the date of the newspaper, page number and column number.  

Final Words:
Some obituaries cannot be traced further due to lack of information.  Untraceable obituaries are filed at the project page until more information becomes available.   Also be aware that not all obituaries listed on the project page will turn out to be for people of Usticese desent.   These are still recorded in the UGH charts because they aid Usticese descendants with those surnames in determining who are true relatives.