Rev. Dr. Percel O. Alston, A Life Captured in Notice of Death

To say that Percel O. Alston was an accomplished man may be an understatement. As his obituary attests, he was absolutely entrenched in accomplishment and activity.

From being a military man, serving in Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone during WWII, to earning his doctorate of ministry from the Andover Newton Theological School, Rev. Dr. Percel O. Alston made his mark.

It’s difficult to think that one’s life can be distilled into a few paragraphs. Yet, that is what obituaries do. As such, they are invaluable instruments of learning about our ancestors and vital in our family history search.

In fact, it’s very possible that the only way one might learn an important fact about their relative is via an obituary.

From those clues, one can glean other helpful information for their genealogical query.

For example, Uncle Percel’s obituary documents his high-profile involvement with the United Church of Christ. Looking more closely, I discovered that there was a great deal more to learn about the Church and Uncle Percel.

The Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, LA has a United Church of Christ collection that includes the Percel O. Alston papers:

Percel O. Alston papers

“Collection Identifier: 011 Content Description The papers consists of 17 books, three videocassettes, and papers consisting of correspondence, writings including master’s of art thesis, diplomas, passport, appointment books, photograph, and awards of Percel Alston generated over the period he was a minister and staff person of the Division of Christian Education of the United Church Board for Homeland Missions (UCBHM). Also included is an article about Mr. Alston in the publication United Church of Christ Education, a newsletter published…Dates: Other: 1949-1989”

Other information that can be taken from this obituary is the fact that Uncle Percel died from a heart attack at age 62. This is important health information for close kin/descendants, in terms of being aware of health/genetic family history.

Uncle Percel’s sister, my maternal grandmother, Virginia Alston Braswell (1918-1992), also passed away from a heart attack (in her sleep).

The genealogical information included in obituaries is probably the most obvious reason that they are so helpful to us in our ancestral search, but be sure to look at all of the details included in the notice.

There could be the slightest hint powerful enough to bring down a genealogical brick wall or a simple fact that might bring a poignant, wishful smile to another as they remember their loved one.

Consider the lives of our ancestors as they were in their notices of death, their obituaries. Every obit may not be as fact-filled as Uncle Percel’s; however, there is always a chance to learn more through these important documents. What helpful information about your family can you discover today?

The Genealogy Situation Room

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