The online obituary project began as an attempt by Tom Burtch to locate the published obituaries of the members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (currently 268 members have died) in time for the Chorus’ 30th anniversary in 2008.
In looking for the Chorus-specific listings, Tom realized that there was a much larger audience that would benefit from a complete listing of all the obituaries that have appeared in the “Bay Area Reporter” (the weekly newspaper published in San Francisco for the LBGTQ community).
Although arguably the vast majority of the obituaries published by the Reporter have died of AIDS or AIDS related diseases, this project is not intended to infer any cause of death that is not specifically mentioned in the individual listing. Included are victims of crimes reported in the paper, as well as memorial listings that often appear on the anniversary of a person’s death.
Tom began volunteering at the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California in early 2005. He helped in the physical requirements (read manual labor) for mounting the long running public exhibit, Sporting Life, focusing on the history of the Gay Games, contributing time as a docent for one day per week. After that exhibit closed, Tom began the obituary project. A major interruption resulted when the Historical Society secured space at 18th and Castro Streets in San Francisco for a 12 month period (November, 2008 until October, 2009). Tom was tapped once again for quite a bit of physical labor but also continued to volunteer as a docent, for which he received the first ever “Volunteer Hall of Fame Award’ in 2009. He worked on the obituary project on his laptop most days during his 4 hour shifts. Tom is happy to consult with others interested in starting a similar project in their communities. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org