Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
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Over the time this newsletter has been published, we have written about many aids and tools to help all genealogists even though we were thinking of the newer ones to this hobby that can be so addictive. I have another that I want to discuss. Most of us don't think to use it to its fullest extent...perhaps because it is such a common thing in our lives.
What is this you ask? It is the newspapers of the past. "But, I don't néed obituaries", is a common thought or comment. l know it was mine once. Think about it though. Obituaries help us to locate or verify some of the things we want to know about our ancestors.
What else do newspapers have? They make a good time line for us to see what was going on in our ancestors' lives. They also contain other things like birth announcements, engagements and marriages and many other items of interest. At the close of World War II, I used to watch the paper for returning ships from Europe. Why? They listed the men and women who were aboard them. There are also sections of most newspapers that I have seen that have personnel ads. In these you would see who has separated from their spouse by such things as ads saying, "I will not be responsible for the bills incurred by Jane Doe from this time on." In addition, there are other kinds of legal notices. Almost anything newsworthy in a newspaper may be of some help. One example is a school graduation lists from a high school or college. All of these items can lead to more records as well as adding other bits of information about the person of your search.
If your ancestor was an immigrant, you should also look for the ethnic newspapers. They would be more likely to be in one of those if there was one where they were. People like to read in the easiest form that they know. If they were Polish, chances are that they subscribed to a Polish newspaper. The same goes for any other group of people. They would seek their own kind, if possible.
In the mid-1800s there were ads in the Boston papers of newly immigrated people especially from Ireland looking for friends or relatives. Would those help someone looking for an ancestor in that area and in that particular time frame? Of course they would. News of catastrophes...fires, earthquakes, floods all would help if these occurred where your ancestor was and if records had been lost or destroyed. Even if you knew who, when and where your ancestors were, this knowledge helps to flesh them out so that they are more than just names.
I would give you one word of caution though. A newspaper is a compilation of facts. Therefore it is considered NOT a primary source. One should verify these facts with documentation if at all possible. What you find in the newspaper should point to other sources that would do this. Court records, land deals, etc., can all be found in the courthouse. Notices of these appear in the newspaper at times as well.
There are more and more newspapers appearing online. The ones I happen to know of are on pay to use databases. However, you can search for newspapers on the Internet. Use a search engine such as Google. On this site if one looks under Domestic Resources there is a listing for papers in the state being examined, which should also be a great help.
How do you find these newspapers? Libraries have directories that can help you. State archives could have collections. Inter-library loans are possible in a lot of cases as a many of papers are on microfilm. There are more and more of them are being put on the Internet. Typing, "newspaper directories" into a search engine will bring up some of these. The Library of Congress can help you locate directories also, so use this aid also. You never know what you may find.
As I began to assemble my family tree, I followed the steps my beginning genealogy class and books outlined for me. First, ask and look around the home, interview relatives, scour photo albums, old correspondence and family bibles.
Next, I was directed to expand my search to the outside resources available, such as the census for migration patterns, the courthouse for wills, probate records and title transfers. State vital records were supposed to tell me who married whom and when, while church records could tell me when children were born and baptized. From these areas I should be able to obtain all the pieces to begin my construction.
I began following the steps and made good progress. As I would hit a lull in my progress, I would pull out the boxes of documents and photos that were my thin tie to my families past. I had sifted through these documents time and again, hoping to see something new that I had missed. A small, yellowed piece of paper caught my eye this time. I opened the fold and found a receipt for a newspaper classified ad from 1941. The ad was to run for one week and was a notice of name change for my father's oldest brother. Thus my direction turned to newspapers.
I knew that my maiden name was not the name my father was born with. I also had the court document that legally changed my uncle's name. I had tried to find the same document for my father. Unfortunately, as so often is the case, those records were destroyed in a courthouse fire. Now, after finding the receipt of my uncles, I had hope that my father too had put a notice in the same paper.
Immediately, I began online searches for this newspaper. I soon realized this paper was no longer in publication, dimming my hopes of finding what I néeded. I placed a call to the librarian who taught my beginning genealogy class asking for help. My worries were for naught as many historical newspapers are available through the inter-library loan system. I could request microfilm copies of newspapers from New York to California and all places in between, some of these dating back to the early 1800's!
While not every newspaper is available for every year, the choices available are significant and published in a library guidebook. These historical newspapers are being held at local public libraries, county libraries, and state and national archives. Not all libraries have this same inter-library agreement, so you will have to check with your preferred library, but know that the possibility is there.
I am now into my third week of waiting for my newspaper to arrive. The librarian warned me to be patient; newspapers can take up to two months to receive! As I wait for the paper to arrive my list of hopes for newspaper research increases.
Documents such as the census, court documents, birth and death certificates give us facts about our ancestors whereas newspapers add a story. Current, local happenings, society news, world events, natural disasters, deadly epidemics and the state of the economy can put the facts we've uncovered into perspective through the reporting of newspapers. Newspapers can add some depth and dimension to our ancestors, helping to bring them to life.