Have you ever searched for an obituary for a female ancestor but got zero results? It is disappointing to come up empty, and sometimes you are forced to accept that maybe an obituary about your ancestor was never published. 

But wait! Did you try searching for that ancestor’s husband? 

Obituaries commonly referred to married women as Mrs. [husband’s name] instead of by their first names during the 1800s and 1900s. Sometimes, an obituary wouldn’t even use her first name once.

Here is an example from my family tree for Eliza Holmes Remick. Notice how the obituary never used the word Eliza once. Instead, it referred to her only as Mrs. John Remick (her husband’s name). 

So, if I searched for Eliza Remick, I wouldn’t have gotten any results. The key is to try searching for Mrs. [husband’s name]—Mrs. John Remick in this case—because then I would have found this obituary. Otherwise, I might never have known it existed.

When you search for female ancestors in newspaper databases, make sure you do a separate search by her husband’s name. If you haven’t tried this tactic yet, chances are good that there are undiscovered obituaries about your ancestors waiting for you to find them.

And don’t limit this search tactic to obituaries. Your female ancestor could have appeared in the newspaper on other occasions as Mrs. [husband’s name] rather than by her first name in an announcement. 

Good luck!

Jack Palmer has done genealogy research since he was ten years old and loves writing about it for anybody who might enjoy his research stories and tips. He graduated from Duke University in May 2023, majoring in History and Psychology, and is the author of Helen & Frank: A Biography, a biography about his great-grandparents.

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