Owensboro Area Obituary Index.  Kentucky Room, Daviess County Public Library

Any and all items suggesting a death in the region were indexed. These included not only obituaries and death notices but also funeral notices, memorials, thank you notices, resolutions of respect, community items, erection of grave markers, references to attendance at funerals, accumulative lists of deaths over a period for members of a particular group (such as veterans or fraternities), decoration of graves on holidays and legal notices (such as recording of wills, estate settlements or suits, and appointments of administrators/executors). Persons who were reported to be near death were also indexed; in these cases a note was added to the comments explaining. An effort was made to integrate all items for the same person. New items related to a particular death were not indexed separately but were added to the first entry made for that person. The additional items were placed in the “comments” field and appear as “see also” followed by the particular date and page number. In the old newspapers occasionally someone will mistakenly be reported as having died and is later found to be still alive. In these cases I went on and recorded that person in the index but only added data in the field categories of “name”, “obituary date”, “age”, and “comments”. In the comments a note was added that he was reported as having died but was later found to be alive. It is beneficial to record a misreported death because if someone finds the first report on his death and not the follow-ups they will mistakenly believe he died at that time.

The “comments” field has been extensively utilized to include almost all vital or biographical information given about that individual or his family. Page numbers where item can be found and many cross references to other articles about that individual have been included in the comments. Many other articles, both before and after a death, that give biographical data about that person, have also been added to the comments. Some other items included in the comments field are: sex of person if not indicated by name field (or is ambiguous), additional descriptions of age (a more exact statement of age such as 5 months & 3 days, or other descriptive terms such as infant, boy, young man, elderly, etc.), race (all Blacks were indicated by word ‘Black’ enclosed by single quotation marks), occupations, places of employment, residences, former residences, military service, deceased family members, any data on family, marriage or when moved to location, offices held, memberships and accomplishments.

Entries have been meticulously compiled to achieve standardization of form. In the fields of cemetery, cause of death and comments the use of keywords for a particular category was used consistently even though that exact wording may not have appeared in the original article. Many cemeteries are called by several names and many causes of death or subject categories found in the comments have multiple synonyms. One keyword for all of these multiple names or synonyms was selected so all entries for the same entity could readily be isolated. The use of keywords and standardization of form has maximized the amount of comprehensive keyword searches and thus has greatly enhanced the value of the database for other types of historical research other than name search.

I believe the degree of integration achieved in the database could not have been done just by anyone. One could not have attempted to do such an ambitious project without having a large base of knowledge about the local area and a significant dedication to the cause of historical research. Prior to beginning this project I had a 12-year period of training. I had long been a serious student of local history and had worked as a professional genealogist and researcher, publishing many articles and books about the local area. My dedication to research and continuing education in the Kentucky Room I believe has enabled me to compile this database with a high degree of accuracy and integration.

Like all indexing one should not assume that it is absolutely correct. From my 24 years of experience of studying newspapers, especially the older ones, I have found that they have many errors. In fact I would estimate that as many as half of the older obituaries contain some error. For this index many gross misspellings of surnames (or multiple spellings reported for the same name) were changed to what was known or found to be correct or to what was subsequently proven to be correct by relatives. This was done so that they could be more readily located. All other information cited in the obituaries, however, is indexed as is. Occasionally if some error in the information, such as burial place, was known or proven by some relative, an accompanying note of explanation has been added to the comments field.

One needs to keep in mind that errors can also be made by the person doing the indexing. Since a name is not found in the index do not assume that no item is there. Errors are inevitable especially where the item is very small and there are very badly faded pages. Great time and care was done in the indexing of the pre-1920 obituary database. I believe that because of this my error rate is minimal and not many were missed. Every entry has been rechecked and some multiple times for errors in spelling and uniformity.

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