Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Obituaries and Death Notices: Making the Distinction

On the SHC website we offer “look ups” for both obituaries and death notices.   Requests for these look ups arrived in the past few weeks.  Concerned that researchers do not make the distinction between obits and death notices, maybe we need to note the difference.  When you search for death information, you know the difference and anticipate results.
Content provides a distinction between obits and death notices.  A death notice is a straight forward announcement of death.  Printed details include the name, date of death, and possibly some distinguishing feature of the individual.  In the early newspapers of Sherburne County, death notices can be found anywhere in the pages.  Often, small paragraphs are printed in the local news columns.
In contrast to the death notice, surviving family members help write obituaries.  They are longer than death notes, and they are much more personalized.  Date of birth; date of death; cause of death; names of survivors; and a brief biography all may be included in an obituary.

A date of death will distinguish between an obituary and a death notice.  Sherburne County newspapers did not generally publish obituaries until the mid-1910s or early 1920s.  I think the earliest obituary I have found was published in 1910.  Researching an individual, dead in 1894 in Becker, may have a death notice printed in the Sherburne County Star News in Elk River, but certainly not an obituary.

Another feature that distinguishes an obituary from a death notice: surviving family members pay for obituaries.  As you research Sherburne County, consider the financial state of the family.  Would a bachelor uncle, living on rented land and dying alone have an obituary published in the local news pages?  Probably not.
A notable exception to the obit versus death notice discussion: prominent residents may receive a news column announcing their death; an honor reserved for the most prominent of community residents.  The news story is a significant exception to death announcements of any kind in the local newspapers.  

As you conduct your research make a note of the differences between death notices and obituaries.  These distinctions may save you time, money, and confusion as your research progresses.

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