The word necrology comes from the Greek words meaning, literally, “words of the dead.” These lists of those citizens who had died began to appear in many of the county histories published in the nineteenth century. In the days before vital registration took hold in many states, these necrologies provide evidence of the dates of death of many citizens—both prominent and common.
Necrologies appear in multiple forms in these county histories.
In History of Franklin County [Pennsylvania] (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Co., 1887), for example, the author compiled several lists of transcriptions of tombstones in the county’s older cemeteries. One such list published in this volume provided the following information.
In the old Quincy graveyard are the following:
- Barbara, wife of Simon Lidy, died January 6, 1845, aged ninety-one years.
- John Funk, born March 6, 1792, died December 13, 1858.
- Samuel Lowe, born June 25, 1772. died January 24, 1853.
- Barbara Lane, died January 11, 1831, aged 73 years.
- Christian Piper, born May 11, 1764, died February 2, 1842; Magdalena, his wife, born March 4, 1774, died October 28, 1856.
- Peter Beaver, died February 10, 1829, aged sixty years; Susanah, consort, born June 29, 1777, died March 2, 1856.
- Mary Stull, born October 10, 1795, died May 28, 1868.
- Jacob Stull, died September, 1854, aged eighty-two years.
Other authors compiled their necrologies from multiple sources, though they did not always identify these sources. J. Thomas Scharf, the author of several histories in the mid-Atlantic region, included a list of deceased citizens of Washington County in his History of Western Maryland Being A History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day (Louis H. Everts, 1882), extracted here:
- Mrs. Bowman, at Brownsville, Pa., Dec. 19, 1822, in the 79th year of her age. She was one of the earliest settlers of Washington County, and had resided at Hagerstown from its founding to 1816.
- At the Globe Tavern, in Hagerstown, Dec. 3, 1823, Thomas Belt, aged 83. An obituary notice said of him, “He was almost one of the last of the good old fathers of Washington County who have rendered it ever memorable for its ancient hospitality.”
- Sept. 9, 1821, at Shepherdstown, Va., in the 20th year of his age, Samuel Bell, youngest brother of the editor of the Hagerstown Mail.
- Dec. 12, 1822, at the residence of Alex. Kennedy, near Boonsboro’, Bartholomew Booth, son of John Booth.
- March 30, 1879, Lily, wife of Frank O. Baush, of Cumberland, and daughter of Hon. A.K. Syester, of Hagerstown.
- November, 1870, at Mobile, Col. Daniel Beltzhoover, son of the Mr. Beltzhoover who kept the Globe Tavern at Hagerstown. The deceased graduated at West Point in 1845, served through the Mexican war with gallantry, and resigned his commission in 1856, when he was appointed professor of geometry and the higher branches of mathematics at Mount St. Mary’s College, Emmittsburg, Md. When the war between the States broke out, though not a native of the South, he offered his services to the Confederacy, and was appointed on Gen. Twigg’s staff at New Orleans, and was afterwards made captain of the famous Watson’s battery, and for gallant conduct under Sidney Johnston was breveted major, afterwards lieutenant-colonel; was chief of artillery at Vicksburg, and whilst in command there received his commission as colonel of artillery. During the siege of Fort Powell, in Mobile Bay, he rendered further important services. After the war he devoted himself to the instruction of youth. He was a proficient in music, and the composer of many pieces of much instrumental merit.
As genealogists, we often look for evidence of vital events: births, marriages, and deaths. The necrologies–lists of deaths–published in nineteenth century county histories can provide dates of death during the period before official state vital registration. Accessible Archives’ American County Histories collection contains many of these published necrologies throughout the country.
© 2012 Michael Hait