Are Obituary Comments Clues?

The online obituary for a distant relative included a comment section. Fairly typical stuff. In reading the comments, I noticed that a neighbor had referred to she and her husband as the man’s aunt and uncle.

Knowing the family genealogy of the deceased relatively well and being somewhat familiar with that of the neighbor as well, I was somewhat suspect as to whether or not there was a relationship either by biology or by marriage.  But I’m not certain.

The obituary listed the aunts and uncles of the deceased. The commenter nor her husband were listed. And yet there the comment remained clearly stating the relationship.

There’s several genealogy questions here:

  • do I enter the information in my database?
  • how accurate is it?
  • how do I cite it?

The difficulty with entering the information is that it’s not a parent-child relationship. My software may allow me to add “other family members,” thus connecting the two people as being “related” but not specifying the type of relationship. If I believe the commenter is correct and that there was some relationship between them and the deceased, I may choose to enter the relationship. At the very least, I may include it in my notes on the deceased. There’s not really a “wrong” way to handle it (aside from not citing it and not transcribing it verbatim).

The accuracy of the comment is a separate issue. The commenter may be referring to an actual relationship resulting from biology or marriage. It could be that the relationship  and use of the terms “aunt” and “uncle” simply is referring to one that stemmed from the fact that the couple were friends of the parents of the deceased or something similar. My comment about the accuracy of the comment and my interpretation of it (along with my reason) should be in the notes to my transcription of it. The perceived accuracy will likely result from how reliable I believe the commenter to be.

My citation for the comment should include at least:

  • Name of funeral home–including website.
  • Name of deceased and the fact that this was an obituary–date of death probably helpful as well.
  • Link to specific obituary–as long as it is not laboriously long
  • Name of the commenter–that’s the author
  • Date of comment
  • Date of my access to site

I should transcribe the comment into my notes.

Personally I would not republish the entire comment without the commenter’s permission. Quoting a snippet of it–the relationship part–should fall under “fair use.” The entire comment is four or five sentences and longer than I would personally use without permission. Any use requires attribution.

From a research standpoint I would print out and save the entire comment as these online message and comment boards sometimes go away after time and one does not want to return to the site later only to discover the comment is gone.

Readers wanting to know more about citation creation are referred to Evidence Explained.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.