What's the News?
What’s the news?’ This is a common greeting among family and friends. Have you started using old newspaper articles to supplement your family history? Old newspapers are a wealth of information for family historian.
I've included a newspaper article that you might hope wasn’t about your family. Imagine the horror for family and friends when a young bride is murdered in front of the guests by the bridegroom! Tragedies leave a mark on the family and their story. How did they recover from this? What happened to the groom’s family in that community? Were they ostracized? Are there more articles to follow about the bride, groom and family in the local newspaper?
On a lighter note, my favorite tidbits are from small town papers with local correspondents. They had the pulse of the neighborhood with feelers capturing tidbits like the all-important news that ‘Sunday visitors at the Hansen farm included Mr. and Mrs. What and their boy Tom’. Now before you laugh…there is key information in that short sentence.
You learn the following:
Using this information with what you already know about your ancestor through census records, birth records and other hard evidence, you can paint a more complete story. Obituaries can be helpful as you comb through the information. One great grandfather's obituary included his hometown and county in Ireland as well as family information and his journey to America. His death certificate did not have his village in Ireland! A good reminder to check other sources.
Alas we are not always that lucky. Another relative had this pithy notice of his death: ‘An old man named Kutzer died south of this town.’ While certainly lacking info, I did know that he lived south of that particular town and had his approximate death date which I could then use to corroborate with burial, civil war pension, and death records. Perhaps your family had tragic deaths of children from diphtheria that made the paper? Or was your grandmother’s wedding dress is described in fine detail, along with a list of relatives attending?
A word of caution...a reporter might not get all the facts right so compare and confirm information with other resources. After a tornado hit our farm, a local newspaper included a picture of my cousins and me sitting on a fallen tree, erroneously noting that we were all three daughters of my parents! Suddenly my cousins were my sisters and our family almost doubled in size! While my cousins are as dear to me as sisters, I do wonder what a future genealogist will make of that article 100 years from now.
There are many sites that include newspaper resources online with some free and others fee-based. I’m including these for your convenience. Remember sometimes to get the article you need, it requires feet on the ground or a well-crafted letter as not all papers are available online yet.
Canadian Newspapers -listing of free online digitized newspapers across the provinces from BGSU Libraries.
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With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.