Newspaper Obituaries in Family Research
Why look at newspaper obituaries?
Identifying the burial ground
Newspaper obituaries can be extremely informative. They will list where a funeral takes place and usually identify the burial ground. Funerals in Ireland normally take place two to three days after the death, unless an inquest is required.
The deceased will usually be buried at the local cemetery. Belfast folk will, for example, are usually buried in their local Belfast graveyard – Belfast City Cemetery (Protestant) or Milltown Cemetery (Catholic). In the eighteenth century or earlier, Friar’s Bush or the New Burying Ground on Clifton Street may also have been possible sites. However, it is not uncommon for the deceased to be removed to the family plot in the country area from which the family originated.
Newspaper obituary notices like those below can save a lot of fruitless searching:
“The remains of my beloved husband will be removed from the above address on to morrow [Sunday] morning, at 7:30, per train leaving Northern Counties Railway at 8:15,for interment in Randalstown Chapel Yard”.22nd November 1895
“His remains will be removed for interment on to day (Wednesday) at 2pm, in Derriaghy burying-ground”.17th October 1921
Identifying Family Members
A newspaper obituary may also provide information about surviving family members. However, it is only in later days that it is common for brothers/sisters, sons/daughter/ friends etc to add their own death notices. Historically, it was common for the head of family to put in one family notice giving the relevant funeral details with the phrase “Friends will please accept this intimation” as an indication that there were no plans to notify friends/ relatives by individual cards/ death notices.
At a time when many families lived in the same neighbourhood and literacy was not always widespread, ‘word of mouth’ often sufficed. The insertion “American papers please copy” indicates that a close family member has emigrated.
Will there always be a newspaper obituary?
Very often death notices were just not put in newspapers especially among poorer folk. If it was a question of paying for food or paying for a newspaper obituary then food took priority. This is obviously disappointing for a genealogist, but has to be understood in the context of the times.
Accessing Newspaper Obituaries
National Library of Ireland
The NLI newspaper collection is one of the most heavily used collections in the National Library. Newspapers are a major research source for political, economic and social history, and local studies and genealogy. The NLI website notes that “most newspapers are available in microfilm or digital formats, and the hardcopy newspaper is not issued in these cases. Hardcopy newspapers are held in off-site storage and are retrieved on a weekly basis”. The NLI website can be accessed using the link below:
Belfast Central Library
In Northern Ireland, Belfast Central Library has a Newspaper Library open to the public. This holds the most extensive collection of newspapers in Northern Ireland. Belfast and regional papers for the north of Ireland are available to consult. A few southern papers are also held for example, the Irish Times.
For the major Belfast newspapers there will be a complete holding, either in hard copy or on microfilm. Provincial papers will be held for various dates. It is possible to photograph obituaries from the original papers, within copyright restrictions, or to print or scan from the microfilm reels. (There is a small charge for pages printed).
It is advisable to contact the Heritage Department of Belfast Central Library before a visit to check that a particular newspaper for the relevant date is available and to confirm photocopy rates and current opening hours.
Heritage Department, Belfast Central Library, Royal Ave., Belfast BT1 1EA
Tel +44 028 90509156
Some local libraries will look up an obituary for a reader if they have a definite date of death. Copies can then be forwarded via email or by post in the case of photocopies. There may be a small charge to cover costs. Bear in mind that public libraries will not do research if a date of death is not known. Given that we all know how many hours can be lost in looking for relatives or family connections, library staff cannot be expected to do it for you. For that you would need to engage a professional service for a larger charge reflecting the time & effort involved.
Irish Newspaper Archives
The subscription-based Irish Newspaper Archives website claims to be “the world’s largest and oldest online database of Irish newspapers”. The online newspaper archives provides a fast and easy way to access newspapers from 1738 all the way up to current day. the list of available Newspapers by County can be viewed at the link below:
British Newspaper Archive
The British Newspaper Archive is a subscription website that covers a number of Irish newspapers – claiming to have newspapers for very county in Ireland. The list of available newspapers can be viewed using the link below. Monthly subscription costs are listed on the site with costs varying for monthly/ quarterly/ annual subscriptions with a ‘Pay as you go’ option also included..
The BNA website also supports searching of all or selected newspapers within date ranges (eg searching the newspapers for references to “John Smith” between 1900-1949). Although you will have to subscribe to see the actual page/article/ obituary, the search itself is free and can be used to search for relevant newspapers and to confirm dates.
Other useful sources/ references:
- Ireland Old News
- Free Irish Newspaper Archives at Irish Genealogy
- Irish Newspaper Collection on Findmypast
Our other posts on tracing your family tree can be viewed by clicking the link below:
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