When you think of using newspapers for genealogy research, be honest, what do you think of first? Obituaries! In general, most people automatically think of obituaries, too. However, newspapers are a resource that can be used for much more. They are a useful tool for finding your ancestor’s unique story, as well as for building an understanding of the historical events that may have shaped your ancestor’s life. For example, if your ancestor wrote or talked about an historical event, finding contemporary documentation can add more depth to your family narrative. If great Aunt Susannah mentioned the horrible flooding in Denver, Colorado, in July 1912, checking the local or national newspapers might reveal more details than Aunt Susannah was saying.
Some of the many reasons why ancestors can be found in newspapers:
School reports, graduation announcements, scholarships awarded
Marriage and engagement announcements
Land sales and purchases
Political associations or careers
Criminal activities, legal disputes
Military pensions granted
Invention patents recorded
Musical or theatrical performances
Notice of movement, such as a visit to a faraway relative, relocation to a new city, a vacation or business trip
Accidents or Illnesses
Special anniversaries or birthdays
Medical advertisements with testimonials
Newspapers are great resources, but sometimes they are difficult to find. The Library of Congress has a great resource for locating newspapers, as well as their own digital collection of newspapers at Chronicling America. The website also includes the index “U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present.” This is a comprehensive database with over 150,000 titles from all 50 states. Information on each newspaper ranges from when and where the paper was published to which repositories contain copies of the paper today.
There are several resources for digital newspapers online though the vast majorities remain in local archives. By starting with the U.S. Newspaper Directory, you can determine whether or not a local paper existed in the area where your ancestor lived, and then, you can find the repository that houses the newspaper. Some repositories have staff members that are able to help locate specific articles. Many have limited manpower and time restraints, and do not have hours to spend searching through reels of microfilm.
This is where a member from the Genealogists.com team can help. With access to repositories around the country (and the world), they can access historical newspapers and take the time to locate those news worthy items that highlighted your ancestors’ lives.
Article by Deborah Sweeney, the Genealogy Lady
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