Religious Denominational Newspapers

Many genealogists find the time before 1850 in the Midwest a difficult period to research because of the lack of records. An often-overlooked resource – religious denominational newspapers - may prove helpful. One such example is the Western Christian Advocate. In observance of the bicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance, the Indiana Historical Society sponsored the abstraction and indexing of obituaries from the Western Christian Advocate between the years 1834 and 1850. The work has been published as Abstracts of Obituaries in the Western Christian Advocate.

This Methodist weekly newspaper was the second publication of the Methodist Church and began in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May 1834. Its relevance to genealogists is that it contained numerous obituaries (as many as twenty per issue) during the pioneering period in the Midwest when papers reported deaths only occasionally. The Western Christian Advocate reported deaths in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and other Midwest states. Methodist ministers and relatives of the deceased contributed the largest number of obituaries. Most, but not all, were members of the Methodist denomination.

The index created for the publication is exceptional. There is an every-name index giving the names of the deceased in bold type. There is also a geographical index divided into states and further broken down by county, township, village, etc. The following abstract serves as an example of the type of information contained in the obituaries of which there are more than 8,000.

HODGES, Diana: b. Huntington Co., PA; d. 5 Oct. 47, in 67th yr. At her res., LaGrange Co. IN; Parents: WRIGHT, John and Jemima; mar husband died in OH. Issue; several chn; Moved with husband to OH; moved with grown chn. To LaGrange, IN.

This abstract supplied vital data on an elderly woman who left few records of her life as she migrated with her family from Pennsylvania to Ohio and then Indiana. Despite an intensive decade-long search, no surviving record of her birthplace (Huntington County, Pennsylvania), birth date (1780) maiden name (Wright) and parents’ given names (John and Jemima) was ever located. This Western Christian Advocate obituary provides numerous possibilities for further research of Diana Wright Hodges’ ancestors and descendants as well as those of her husband (William Hodges).

Obituaries also have been abstracted from the denominational newspaper Der Christliche Botschafter. The newspaper represented the Evangelical United Brethren Church from 1836 to1866. Both indexes are available at the Hayes Presidential Library and Museums. While indexes for denominational newspapers are not common, The Source and other genealogical reference works provide addresses of denominational archives. If the denomination published a newspaper, it may be possible to have those issues searched for an ancestor's obituary.