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With just a few problems

It is a lovely obituary, rich in the kind of detail that warms a genealogist’s heart.

Cousin to The Legal Genealogist‘s mother, Mattie (Cottrell) Berens died in January 1980 in Mobridge, Walworth County, South Dakota, and the local newspaper published just the kind of detail we’d all like to see in an obituary:


Funeral services for Mrs. Mattie L. Berens, 68, were held Saturday morning at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mobridge with Father Richard Ortmeier officiating. Burial was in Greenwood Cemetery.

Larson’s Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements. A service was held Friday evening at Larson’s Memorial Chapel.

Mrs. Berens, who had worked 30 years as a medical laboratory technician at Mobridge, died Thursday, Jan. 3, at Mobridge Community Hospital. She had been ill for the past nine months with cancer.

Pallbearers were Herman Ries, Jack Morris, Del Riede, Raymond Feichtner, Dr. Leonard M. Linde and Harold Baird, all of Mobridge.

Mrs. Berens was born to Mr. and Mrs. John Cottrell in Texas on May 15, 1911. While a small child, she moved with her parents to a ranch three miles northwest of Trail City. In 1924, she moved to Mobridge and attended school, graduating from Mobridge High School in 1929.

After her marriage to John Berens, they lived in Selby for several years before returning to Mobridge. She made her home at 211 First Ave. West. She was employed at the former Lowe clinic and more recently at the Mobridge Medical Clinic, where she worked until her retirement. She was a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

She is survived by one son, Robert J. Berens of Stockton, Kan.

Preceding her in death were her parents and one brother, Phillip Cottrell.1

Neat, huh?

CALMI mean, seriously, who wouldn’t love to have an obit with that much detail on a family member?

Of course, there are those minor little problems.

Such as the fact that she wasn’t born on May 15, 1911.

And she wasn’t born in Texas.

South Dakota started keeping birth records in July of 1905. And on the second of June 1910, the birth of a child to John Cottrell and his first wife Amy Bidelsbock (Beitelspacher) was recorded in Walworth County. The child, a girl named Mattie, was born on the 24th of May 1910 in Walworth County.2

And she didn’t move to Mobridge in 1924.

The 1925 South Dakota state census records Mattie as living with her father John, John’s second wife Abigail, and her younger half-brother Phillip on the ranch in Trail City, Dewey County.3

So you already know what the moral of this story is, right?

Even when it’s a lovely obituary, rich in the kind of detail that warms a genealogist’s heart… check your sources.


  1. “Rites for Mattie Berens Held Here Saturday Morning,” Mobridge (SD) Tribune, (5?) January 1980; text provided by email, Mobridge Tribune news staff, 2 May 2003.
  2. Walworth County, SD, birth record, Mattie Cottrell, State File No. 56369 (24 May 1910); Register of Deeds, Mobridge.
  3. See “South Dakota State Census, 1925,” Dewey County, Trail City, card nos. 239-241 and 622, John , Mattie, Phillip and Mrs. John (Abigail) Cottrell; digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 16 Oct 2011); citing South Dakota Assessor, “State Census, 1925,” South Dakota Historical Society, Pierre, South Dakota.
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