Feature Article: Dig Deeply into Records to Uncover Clues

Genealogy Research Tip: "Don't judge a book by its cover." This is good advice in life. It's also good advice when doing genealogy, because the front page of the document you're looking at may not fully indicate all its contents—as this story will show.

I made some surprising family history discoveries about Daniel Morse and his wife Lois after digging deeply into online records during my genealogy research—because I followed the above advice.

It all began when I found the obituary of Daniel Morse, published in the Cherry Valley Gazette (Cherry Valley, New York), 15 June 1819, page 3. It's a simple obituary, just one line: "At Herkimer in an apoplectic fit, Daniel Morse, Esq. formerly of Brookfield, Mass. aged 60."

Then I found another version of Morse's obituary, published the next day in the Commercial Advertiser (New York City, New York), 16 June 1819, page 2.

This obituary is even shorter than the first one, omitting the cause of death and his age, simply stating: "At Herkimer, N.Y. Daniel Morse, Esq. formerly of Brookfield, Mass."

Another New York City newspaper ran Morse's obituary two days later. That death notice appeared in the Spectator (New York City, New York), 18 June 1819, page 3.

Three days after that, the exact same death notice was published in a newspaper from a neighboring state, The Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 21 June 1819, page 3.

Again, no mention of the cause of death, but his age is included: "At Herkimer N.Y. Daniel Morse, Esq. aged 60, formerly from Brookfield Ma."

So here we have four obituaries, and from them we have some basic genealogical facts:
  • His name
  • His age
  • Where he died
  • A hint about his occupation ("Esquire" often meant lawyer)
  • His former place of residence
But we don't know more about him—or his family—than that.

Digging deeper into my research using GenealogyBank, I wanted to see if there is more information about him.

There is.

I found a copy of the sermon preached at his funeral.

Wow—the actual sermon?

Yes, word for word. What a terrific genealogical find this turns out to be—a document packed with family history information.

For starters, we learn that the funeral service was held on 4 June 1819, led by Rev. Hezekiam N. Woodruff, A.M., Pastor of the churches of Herkimer and Little Falls, New York. This gives us a good clue where we might find church records about Daniel Morse and his family.

This 16-page funeral sermon pamphlet includes extensive biographical material about Morse, as well as information about his family.

On page 13 I read that:
  • Daniel was born on 2 August 1759
  • His wife was Lois Groat, born 18 March 1758
  • Both were born in Massachusetts
  • They married in August 1782 and had "several children"
  • They moved to Herkimer, New York, in 1800

The narrative goes on to describe the final days before he died of an "apoplectick" fit on 4 June 1819.

Continuing to read the funeral sermon for Daniel Morse, I then made an important discovery—something that was not even mentioned on the cover of the pamphlet. I found that the document also contained a lengthy extract of the funeral sermon for his wife Lois (Groat) Morse!

That is why you can't judge a book by its cover—or assume you know the contents of a genealogical record just by what it says on its front page. You have to read the whole record, thoroughly and carefully, because it may surprise you with some information you were not expecting to find.

Excited at finding this addition to Daniel Morse's funeral sermon pamphlet, I started reading Lois Morse's funeral sermon. Suddenly, the second paragraph just leapt off the page at me: Lois died just 25 days after her husband because of a fit of her own, a "paralytick" one.

Wanting to know more, I turned to a new search in GenealogyBank, looking for her obituary.

I found it in the New York Columbian (New York City, New York), 6 July 1819, page 2.

Again, just one sentence, but what a story it tells: "At Herkimer, Mrs. Lois Morse, aged 61, in less than four weeks after the decease of her husband, Daniel Morse, esq. who also died in a fit after twenty hours illness."

Thanks to these obituaries and the funeral sermon pamphlet, we know much more about Daniel Morse and his wife. All of this information is a welcome addition to the family record.

When I started searching for information on Daniel Morse I wasn't surprised to find his death notice. It was a lucky break that GenealogyBank also had scanned in his funeral sermon.

And so, in summary, remember: Don't judge a book (or a funeral sermon pamphlet, for that matter) by its cover. In this case, the title page states that it is the funeral sermon for Daniel Morse—it does not say that it also includes extracts from the funeral sermon for his wife, Lois (Groat) Morse.

I had no idea that Daniel's wife Lois died less than four weeks after he did. And since the title page made no mention of his wife, it was only by carefully reading the entire funeral sermon pamphlet that I learned the rest of the story.

So now we not only learned when and where Daniel and Lois Morse died, we know the tragic circumstances of how close in time their deaths were, and that they both died of fits. They've become more than just names and dates on a family tree—we've come to know something about them as real people.

Don't judge a book by its cover. Always be prepared to go beneath the surface—dig deeper with your family history searches and find as many genealogy records about your ancestors as you can. And then read them all, thoroughly. You never know what you'll find!