The Archive Lady: Search the Whole Newspaper
Jerry in Oklahoma asks: “I have been doing genealogy for a long time and I have a hard time finding anything other than obituaries in old newspapers. Can you give me any tips on the best way to use newspapers to find my ancestors?”
Jerry asks a great question about a genealogical resource that I personally love to use for family history research. Newspapers are used by genealogists all the time to locate information about their ancestors. However, are we gleaning as much as we can from old newspapers? Probably not. Most of us use the search feature that is located on newspaper websites. While this might help us find a few items in the newspaper, the search feature does not find everything we might need.
One of the best tips I can give to genealogists about finding anything and everything that a newspaper could have about their ancestor is this: read the whole newspaper! Most newspaper websites allow users to access entire newspapers from the front page to the back page. Also, when doing research in microfilmed newspapers, it is very easy to start at page one and read all the way to the last page of each newspaper.
So what kinds of information can be found in newspapers other than obituaries?
Our ancestors could have been mentioned in a local news report. Maybe they were a witness to an event and were interviewed by the newspapers. Possibly they were part of the news story and it was reported in the newspaper. Reading the local news stories might reveal your ancestor’s name and connection to that event.
Local Event Columns
These columns were also known as “gossip columns” and were really popular to print in the newspapers. These columns were known for reporting the events and activities of the local citizens. An example of this type of information is “Mr. and Mrs. Jones went to visit their children in Clarksville, Tennessee on Saturday.” Reading the whole newspaper, including these types of columns, just might help you find pieces of interesting information about your ancestor.
Local Business Advertisements
If your ancestor owned a local business, they may have advertised in the local newspaper. Many businesses would pay for advertisements during certain holidays or special events happening in the community. Even if your ancestor didn’t own a brick and mortar business, but offered a service to the community, the advertisement could be in the newspaper.
The legal notices were usually placed in the back pages of the newspaper. Types of notices could include probate, estate property sales, court cases coming to trial and other legal notices. This is why it is important to read the whole newspaper, even to the back pages to see if your ancestor is named.
Unclaimed Mail at the Post Office
Many local newspapers printed a note from the local post office listing all persons who had unclaimed mail still waiting for them at the post office. I have found several of my ancestors named in the unclaimed mail at the post office in the newspaper.
These are just a few of the types of newspaper items that could mention your ancestors. Whenever possible, reading the entire newspaper is always a great idea to make sure no piece of information about your ancestor is missed. A historic newspaper is a fantastic genealogical record source, especially when read in its entirety.
Legacy Family Tree Webinars and Quick Guides
To properly preserve old family letters and envelopes, please watch my Legacy Family Tree Webinar Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist or read my Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide on this subject:
Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist Webinar
Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist
Legacy Quick Guide
PDF version: http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1283
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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