My heart is full as I write this last Family Ties. I am so grateful to the Bangor Daily News and its readers for encouraging and supporting this column, which has run for nearly 30 of the last 32 years.
I remember that first column as though it were yesterday, printed on a warm Saturday in July 1984. Three years later, my dear friend Connee Jellison took it over for the next 10 years while I became a reporter and later an editor for the BDN. After a break of about two years, Family Ties returned in May 1999 on Mondays. For me, writing it has been a delightful experience each week.
To have my writing appear in the newspaper I grew up with, the one that followed my dad around the Pacific at mail call in World War II, has been a privilege beyond description.
In the 1980s, and now for 16-plus years, I am thankful to members of the Maine Genealogical Society, MGS chapters around the state, the Daughters of the American Revolution and its 20-plus chapters, the Mayflower Society, the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine, dozens of historical societies, libraries, retired teachers’ groups, Kiwanis Clubs and so on, all who have welcomed me to give programs and have helped spread the word that family history is for everyone.
Now, for a bit more on obituaries and our fictional Jane Anne (Brown) Doe. Last week’s column brought many responses and suggestions. One online reader reminded us that while we’re preparing our own obituaries or those of relatives, we should make sure that a good-quality photograph is available.
Sometimes we have a favorite photo and want to use that. But make sure it is a clear picture, not fuzzy or shadowy. It should have good contrast and a sharp image so it doesn’t look faded or muddy when reproduced. Keep in mind that your photo may have to be enlarged by the newspaper, and that can affect the quality of the picture if it is not sharp to begin with.
Last week I wrote that if Jane Doe was born to a single mom, the obit should list just the one parent and move on. Further, the parents should not be listed as “the late …” in this part of the obit, because they weren’t deceased when she was born. Also, if mom went on to remarry years later, it will only confuse things to include her next surname here.
My oft-used example of how wrong the birth-parents part of an obit can go is that of my Steeves great-grandfather, born 1875 in New Brunswick to a woman who eventually married a man who was not his father. My great-grandfather’s 1952 obit in Maine should have listed that he was born to Margaret Steeves and could have added that in his early years, they lived with his grandparents Nathaniel and Olive Steeves.
Instead, his obit listed Harry as the son of “Margaret and Nathaniel Steeves,” which of course implies he was the son of his grandfather — not what the family intended, I can assure you.
Further, if the parents went on to have an acrimonious divorce, the obit of one of the grown children is not the place to get even with the father by omitting him altogether.
Education of the deceased can be simplified and words saved by writing “graduated from” instead of “attended and graduated from” a particular high school or college, for example. If you want to list the high school, spell it out, instead of confuse present or future readers who don’t know that FA is Foxcroft Academy and PCHS is Piscataquis Community High School.
Military service should include military branch and perhaps the unit or ship involved and the years the service began and ended. Not every job or workplace needs to be listed, but include the ones where he or she worked the longest or made accomplishments.
Hobbies and organizations listed often are those in which the deceased was most active or the favorites. If rewriting my grammy’s 1971 obit, I certainly would mention her lifelong passion for the Red Sox and the Celtics.
The template the BDN has furnished to funeral homes, such as Brookings-Smith in Bangor, includes a sample obituary and a listing of items to consider in this order: town of residence first, then name, nickname, age, date of death, cause, place of death; date and place of birth; parent’s names including mother’s maiden name; education; military, career; clubs and organizations, hobbies, family members who predeceased the person; surviving family members; calling hours, if any; funeral or memorial service or celebration of life, time and place. Information on where to make memorial contributions also is nice, such as a library, historical society, church or organization.
Gary Smith of Brookings-Smith in Bangor has given programs to the Penobscot County Genealogical Society and is certainly in favor of families and individuals making pre-arrangements when possible.
“During our pre-arrangement conference, we strongly recommend that they write down those important things that have been meaningful in their life. We say that because it is obvious to us that each member of a family has a different relationship with a loved one,” he said.
Smith described an obituary as “a lasting tribute” to the deceased and “an expression of them for generations to come.”
Smith noted that the item family members most often want to change is the order of family members, so that survivors come before deceased relatives. I think that is fine. If you are writing an obituary, certainly have a relative or friend read it over to see if you forgot something or made a typo.
Some newspapers offer the opportunity to place the obituary in print and online — or even only online. Many funeral homes also list obits or listings online. A very few funeral homes have encouraged families to publish only a brief item in a newspaper and perhaps something longer on the home’s website.
As a family historian, I am appalled by that last instance. Yes, I’m aware that many newspapers do charge a fee for obituaries. But a newspaper is part of the historical record. BDN obits also are available on microfilm of the newspaper at Bangor Public Library, the University of Maine Fogler Library and several other libraries. Newspaper obits on the BDN website — which look so nice when printed off — are likely to be online longer than the websites of some funeral homes. If a funeral home merges with another company or closes down, its records are privately held unless the owners decide to make them available.
I will continue on the board of the Maine Genealogical Society. I will continue to pursue family history, I will always be interested in obituaries and I hope always to be a writer. I have a few activities to remind you of:
— Penobscot County Genealogical Society, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, Family History Center, LDS Church, corner of Grandview Avenue and Essex Street, “Introduction to Jewish Genealogy” by Ellie May Shufro. The society meets the third Wednesday of the month. pengen.org.
— Maine Genealogical Society, keynote and workshops on “DNA Genetic Genealogy” with Blaine Bettinger, blogger for http://the geneticgenealogist.com, Saturday, April 23, Elks Club, Augusta. $40 members, $50 others, lunch included. Send checks in U.S. funds by April 1 to Maine Genealogical Society, Deborah Nowers, 72 Achorn Road, Belfast, ME 04915. Register online or find more info at maineroots.org. Info also: MGS, PO Box 2062, Waterville, ME 04903.
— Franco-American Centre, University of Maine, Orono, spring date to be determined, program on Franco-American genealogy by Roxanne Moore Saucier. For info, firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Southern Maine Genealogical Conference, with D. Joshua Taylor, May 21, Keeley’s Banquet Center, 178 Warren Ave., Portland. Info: http://gpcmgs.brakeley.net/SMEConference.html.
— Maine Genealogical Society 40th Anniversary Conference, Saturday, Sept. 17, Jeff’s Catering, Brewer. Info: maineroots.org or MGS, Box 2062, Waterville, Maine, 04903.
— Maine Irish Heritage Center, Karen Lemke Lecture, “Living in the Margins: Early Irish Scribes and Their Manuscripts.”
So, what’s next for me? As Dag Hammarskjold once wrote, “What’s next? Why ask. Next will come a task about which you already know all you need to know, that its sole measure will be your own strength.”
This is the final Family Ties of Roxanne Saucier. She may be reached at email@example.com.