Even Brief Death Notices Can Provide Ancestor Clues
October 06, 2022
It would be wonderful to find a long biographical obituary for each of our ancestors replete with employment history, hobbies and family members. For relatives who died before 1940, more often than not, that won't be the case. But if you look closely enough you can extract lots of good information from a quick death notice.
Let's take a look at the death notice for Christian Nunge which was published in the Pittsburgh Press in 1916.
NUNGE—On Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1916,
at 7:30 a. m., Christian Nunge, beloved
husband of Lizzie Nunge (nee Pfalz-
graf), in his 44th year.
Funeral from his late residence, 2114
Lautner st., Troy Hill, Northside, on
Friday afternoon at 2 o'clock. Mem-
bers of the Northside encampment, No.
251; Deborah Rebekah No. 27, I. O. O.
F.; Mozart lodge No. 971, I. O. O. F.;
Homewood commandery No. 378,
Knights of Malta; Grand Army band
and Pittsburgh Musical society and
friends of the family are respectfully
invited to attend.
First clue - date of death. Now we can go in search of an Allegheny County, Pennsylvania death certificate which would provide details about where he was born and list the names of his parents.
Next - we have the name of his wife, Lizzie, and amazingly, her maiden name (Pfalzgraf)! With this information we can easily go in search of a marriage record. Combined with the next bit of information - "in his 44th year" - we can calculate his birth year to 1873 or so. We can also expect that he was married after his 18th birthday so we can narrow the search time frame for the marriage certificate to 1892 or later (up to 1916).
In the second paragraph of the death notice we get the funeral details and information about the people who are invited to attend. We learn that the funeral is taking place from his home and we even have his address - 2114 Lautner Street (Troy Hill, Northside of Pittsburgh). With this information we can look for the house on Google Maps and even use Google Street View to see what it looks like in more recent times.
With the precise location of his residence at the time of his death we can check land records to see if he owned the property or rented it.
Lastly, based on all the members of organizations that were invited to the funeral we can presume that Christian Nunge was a member of the following groups:
- Northside encampment, No. 251
- I. O. O. F. - Deborah Rebekah No. 27
- I. O. O. F. - Mozart lodge No. 971
- Knights of Malta - Homewood commandery No. 378
- Grand Army band
- Pittsburgh Musical society
To learn more about these organizations it might take Googling their names, searching old city directories and watching the webinar Decoding Secret Societies: Finding Your Male Fraternal Ancestors by Michael L. Strauss. I would probably also check for history specific to music or musicians in Pittsburgh at the turn of the century to see if that reveals any further clues.
From a relatively short death notice we were able to find many clues that will lead us to other records which in turn will reveal more about his life. Did you catch any clues that I missed? Let me know in the comments.
 Source: “Death Notices,” The Pittsburgh Press [PA], Tuesday Evening, 21 November 1916, page 28, column 5; digital image, MyHeritage.com (https://www.myheritage.com/ : accessed 6 October 2022), Newspaper collection.
Marian Pierre-Louis is a house history and genealogy professional who specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Her areas of expertise include house history research, southern New England research and solving brick walls. Marian is the Online Education Producer for Legacy Family Tree Webinars where she produces online genealogy education classes. Check out her webinars in the Legacy library.
It’s certainly not explicitly stated in the obituary, but Northside Pittsburgh roughly corresponds to the former Allegheny City which was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907. Therefore, you might find information about the couple and/or his parents in records for Allegheny on FamilySearch. This is especially useful because Pennsylvania did not require birth and death certificates until 1906 or 1907.
Posted by: Matt Cross | October 06, 2022 at 05:29 PM