The deaths of community members often were noted in even the earliest editions of the newspaper. Starting in 1797, the Adler, a German weekly newspaper, is published in the Reading, Pennsylvania area. Other newspapers in the 19th century included the Reading Daily Gazette and the Reading Daily Times. The first Reading Daily Eagle was published on January 28, 1868. In the early part of the 20th century, some obituaries would be grouped together somewhere in the newspaper under a "Deaths" heading. Other death announcements may be located throughout the paper. Starting August 27, 1933, the Reading Eagle first published a daily comic section, located after the sports section. Since then, the obituaries are normally found after the comics and prior to the classified ads. The first listings in the classified ads are the death notices. If the place of interment is not mentioned in the obituary, it may be mentioned in the death notice.
Some of the earliest obituaries/death notices included minimal information to aid a genealogist. Since the 1920s, an obituary most likely contains a wealth of information including:
- Names of surviving families members (spouse, siblings, children, parents) and where they currently reside.
- Parent's names including mother's maiden name.
- If a husband, wife's maiden name.
- If a wife, her maiden name.
- Date of death of spouse if preceded person in death.
- Person's birthplace.
- Street address of current or former residence.
- Age at death.
- Cause of death.
- Occupation and place of employment.
- Organization membership history.
- Church affiliation.
- Name of company handling funeral arrangements and person officiating the funeral.
- Place of interment.
The BCGS Library has issues of the Reading Eagle from 1868 - 1972 on microfilm. Starting in 1955, an index that includes the location of the obituaries is located at the bottom of the front page. The library also offers Reading Eagle obituary indexes of certain years and translations of death notices printed in the Adler. You can search for recent obituaries listed in the Reading Eagle on their web site.
Obituaries are not the only valuable genealogy information obtained from old newspapers. Because births and marriages were big deals and of interest to small town citizens, they were mentioned in the local newspaper. Consider the value of the following:
- Birth announcements - name of parents, grandparents, and possibly siblings.
- Engagement/Wedding announcements - bride's maiden name, names of the bride's and groom's parents, photo of the couple, and sometimes a description of the attire, flowers, and gifts is included.
- Anniversary announcements - couple's current residence, place of wedding, name of wedding officiant, name and current town of residence of children and grandchildren.
- Family reunions - names of attendees.
- Society Pages - provides snippets of visiting relatives.
- Funerals - visiting relatives, place of interment, and sometimes a description of the casket and attire.
- Context - many times, folks are mentioned in the newspaper throughout their life. It may be a result of participation in school, church, sports, organization, an accident, an event, a court case, politics, or receiving an award or promotion.
A worthy by-product of these searches through old newspapers is an understanding of what was happening in the area during that period of time. Don't forget to check out the advertisements, too.