I have a very poorly set up obituary and I need to determine who the 7 children and their families are, but the the way it is laid out and the punctuation are making this quite difficult for me.

The names have all been changed from their real names in the actual obituary. The confusing punctuation is exactly how it was in the obituary. The changed surname of the person who passed away is Simpson, so the maiden names of the daughters of the deceased would be Simpson.

Deeply missed by their seven children and their spouses, 26 grandchildren and their spouses, and 7 great-grandchildren: Ruth Simpson and her children Louise Kohler and Chris Harper, and Danielle; Shelagh and Leigh Potter and Chloe and Sophie; Wesley Kohler and Laura Kohler. David and Suzanne Simpson, Paul T. and Lisa Simpson and Mackenzie; Anne Marie, Mark, Elizabeth, Jonathan, Peter and Rebecca. Rev. Dr. Anne Simpson and her children, Gregory and Johanna Cheevers; and her husband Bruce Berger and his children Samantha, Kirsten and Christopher. John and Deborah Simpson, Graham and Johanna Simpson and Charles; Kathryn and Dan Clisters and Brent and Eric; Matthew, Kristen, Jack and Henry. Bruce and Tamara Simpson and Benjamin, Joshua, Daniel and James. Paul and Laurie Simpson and William. Lois Webber and and her children Rachel and Jessica.

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    For starters I'd say that the full stops separate the children with their families: Ruth, David, Anne, John, Bruce, Paul, Lois. – erstwhile editor Dec 28 '20 at 9:58
  • Not convinced this is a genealogy question, more an English comprehension one... I do agree it's a convoluted paragraph. – ColeValleyGirl Dec 28 '20 at 10:13
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    @ColeValleyGirl - Is this question really any different than someone asking for handwriting interpretation of a census record? – lkessler Dec 28 '20 at 16:07
  • @lkessler, palaeography is a specialist skill for historians/family historians/ genealogists. I could wish those questions received answers that weren't just 'reading the document' for the OP but more telling them how to go about it, but palaeography is definitely in scope here. This doesn't need any specialist skill or knowledge to answer it, except maybe puzzle-solving skills. However, others may have different opinions which is why I haven't closed it even though I think it doesn't belong. – ColeValleyGirl Dec 28 '20 at 16:12

Personally I would parse it as follows:

Deeply missed by their seven children (numbered 1-7) and their spouses, 26 grandchildren (letters a-z) and their spouses, and 7 great-grandchildren (letters A-G):

1.  Ruth Simpson and her children 
         a)Louise Kohler and Chris Harper, and 
         b)Shelagh and Leigh Potter and 
              B)Chloe and 
         c)Wesley Kohler and 
         d) Laura Kohler. 
2.  David and Suzanne Simpson, 
         Paul T. and e)Lisa Simpson and 
         f)Anne Marie, 
         j)Peter and 
3.  Rev. Dr. Anne Simpson and her children, 
         l)Gregory and 
         m)Johanna Cheevers; 
         [and her husband Bruce Berger and his children Samantha, Kirsten and Christopher.]
4.  John and Deborah Simpson, 
         n)Graham and Johanna Simpson and
         o)Kathryn and Dan Clisters and
             F)Brent and 
         r)Jack and 
5.  Bruce and Tamara Simpson and 
         v)Daniel and 
6.  Paul and Laurie Simpson and 
7.  Lois Webber and and her children 
         y)Rachel and 

Hopefully the indentations work to show the generations as well. I think Anne’s husband Bruce and his children are not included in the counts. All of this is supposition, and will need verification against other sources. But it’s a hypothesis to work on.

  • Thank you! This is an excellent hypothesis. You even got the numbers of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all correct. – lkessler Dec 28 '20 at 16:07

This answer is intended to complement the previous answer and to be more useful to the general reader. Instead of addressing this specific example (since the names have all been changed, none of the information can be verified), I'll leave an outline of my research process and the reasoning behind it.

So what can one do when finding an obit, and the list of survivors appears in a form which is completely unfamiliar?

First of all, when reading any obituary, I keep in mind that the reslationships stated in the obituary might not be the actual relationship. In my own research, I found an article which listed the bearers at someone's funeral and identified them as the deceased's nephews. I recognized all the names from prior research as grandsons of the deceased. Had I found this funeral writeup first, and accepted the relationship at face value, I would have been sent on a wild goose chase.

In his course handout for his class on Inferential Genealogy, Dr. Thomas W. Jones warns us against Kinship Acceptance, defined as "The uncritical use of kinships determined or accepted by others." Primary sources, as well as secondary sources (primary/secondary are used here in the older sense of the terms used by historians) can have errors (see link to the article "Perils of Source Snobbery" below).

To do good genealogy, we need Kinship Determination, defined as:

The opposite of kinship acceptance. It is the process of figuring out the identity of an ancestor’s parent, spouse, or child. Inferential genealogy is one method of kinship determination.

So, although I think the hypothesis in the previous answer was a great starting point, I would begin by looking for other records to correlate with the obituary. I would start by trying to identify the children of the deceased, taking into account that there might be seven surviving children, or perhaps only seven that the writer of the obituary knew about. Having done that, and having identified their (potential) spouses at the time the obituary was written, I would be in a much better position to parse the names in the list. If the seven surviving children were intended to mark the boundaries of groups of descendents, that's much easier to see once you know the names.

Obituaries are notariously prone to errors, especially if any part of the information has been given over the telephone, and typesetters and OCR algorithms can make mistakes. I would not want to hang a complicated algorithm or analysis on the placement of punctuation, which can easily go astray.

It might be useful when doing the analysis to make a table or spreadsheet with spaces to fill in the names of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their spouses as they are discovered or verified. Other obituaries might mention siblings or cousins whose precise relationships will take time to determine.

If using lineage-linked software, I prefer to link any survivors for whom I can't find a direct relationship by means of a weblink on an Ancestry online tree, or by using the ASSOciated person feature in Family Historian, rather than assign dummy parents until the apparent parents are known. I also do this for cases when a person is associated with the deceased as an informant on a death certificate, an administrator or executor for probate, witnesses for documents, and so on. I do this for clarity, rather than attaching the document belonging to the deceased to the associated person.

On Ancestry's online tree system, I use Residence events to mark when people survive the deceased, since many obituaries list where survivors lived. I see a Residence event with a date and a description "[name] survived [deceased]" and their relationship, but the placename is empty, I know the obit did not list the survivor's residence.

Further reading:

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