My Notes from a Presentation about Newspapers and Genealogy
by Shirley York Anderson
Newspapers and Genealogy
Talk for Governor Nelson Dewey Chapter of DAR
Newspaper research, for me, was not something I used while focussing primarily on ancestor research. It became very relevant when I started a descendant project. I couldn't afford to order VR for everyone, and there were privacy restrictions.What newspapers should you look for?
The best ones are those where the family lived for a period of time. Also obvious are those in the town where the event occurred.
In a rural area or very small town, use the paper from the nearest town that has a newspaper. Most papers had correspondents in the surrounding small towns. How to locate a newspaper
Some sources for newspapers are:
- the historical society
- the newspaper catalog in the microform room;
- "Newspapers on Microfilm" - can usually be ordered through interlibrary loan.
- local histories - usually tell about the development of newspapers in the area.
- Genealogical Society newsletters from the area.
- Newspapers quoted in another paper.
I have also contacted a local library, and found out what newspapers would cover the location and time period. They also knew if it was available on microfilm, and if so, where the film could be ordered from.
Example: Meaford ON Public Library has films of the early Meaford papers. They are not listed in the "Newspapers on Microfilm" books, and an interlibrary loan request through the normal channels was negative.
However, the librarian tole me they had the papers and would send them out on interlibrary loan. I had to specify the library as the source on my loan request but otherwise that has worked fine.Alternatives to locating a whole paper
Examples that I have used:
- letters asking for clippings
- to genealogical societies: their files are often alphabetical so knowing the exact date is not so critical
- to the local library: generally need the date
- family members
- probate clerk
- published collections
- may be hard copy or microfilm
- some located through library catalogs such as
- Historical Society
- Family History Library
- DAR Library
- genealogical society newsletters
-sometimes include newspaper extracts
- other times they advertise their publications, which may only be an index
- problems - a search request often is limited to vital events and won't include articles leading up to or following the event
- if you don't find what you are looking for, you don't know whether it wasn't published or they missed it when searching for you.
- advantage - will be often be faster than ordering and searchingHow a paper is organized
This depends on the time period and the population size. For earlier papers in smaller towns the general format tends to be quite consistent:
- a front page that often is devoted to local matters
- several pages that the local paper has purchased from a service
- state and national news and ads. These are very easy to identify because the print is usually quite different.
- editorials, of course, and letters to the editor, can be very good sources
- local information - personals, ads, classifieds
I prefer to browse a newspaper. If you have the time, and the paper isn't too large, it is much more effective. You pick up a lot of information that you might not otherwise find.
I tend to skip the state and national news and ads because of my particular interests, but you might want to browse through them until you get a feel for the paper.
As the time period gets later, photographs begin to appear; local information begins to be grouped into special sections, like a sports page; what we know as the 'comics' or 'funnies' start to appear; and there is a very noticable change in language use. Some of the terms used to describe people in earlier papers would be considered offensive today.
As the town gets larger, there is less information about individuals except those prominent in business or society. I tend to stop 'browsing' at that point and just look for specific events, as I don't find enough to be rewarding.Check more than one newspaper
Different newspapers often include different information about the same event.
For example, Henry York died in 1893 in MB. The cause of his death was blacked out on the Vital Record. The first obituary I received was from the paper from his Ontario hometown, which said:
Mr. York was in his usual health, walking on the street, when he fell and immediately expired.
I didn't think too much of it. After all he was 83 years old and a sudden heart attack or stroke did not seem too unlikely. But it turned out there was a lot more to the story. From a MB paper:
... He was as smart as usual, ... He had been trying to watch some parties who had been stealing timber from his wood lot near the town, and on the morning in question he saw an ox team which he thought was going to his timber. For the purpose of warning the man he endeavored to overtake him, which he succeeded in doing after a smart walk of some four hundred yards.Some things you will find in newspapersVital Events
After speaking with his man for a few minutes he turned to come home, and finding that he was weary, sat down to rest where a carpenter was working at his bench, saying he was "done out." After a few passing words he sank forward, and although every means to revive him was at hand it all proved in vain, for the spark of life had fled.
(as one paper put it: the Cradle, the Altar, and the Tomb)
These can be useful either as a replacement or a supplement for vital records of those events.
One problem with early births
, if they appear at all, is that the child's name is seldom given. The usual phrase is:
Born - On June 1st 1906, to Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm McGregor, a daughter.
A more creative one was:
Mr. Joseph McGill is a very happy man this morning. At his house there is sunshine inside and sunshine outside. Congratulations Brother McGill.
That ran the day after his son Vere was born.
If browsing, you may find children that died young, about whose existence today's family members were not aware:
At Edmonton, Thursday Aug. 2nd, Lillian Laura, only child of Richard and Ada Secord, aged 10 months and 28 days.
At the time I found this I knew nothing of this couple's children. And this child would not show up in census records.
I knew from browsing that the father was a fur trader, and was away on a fur trading trip up into the Territories. So the mother had to deal with this all alone.Wedding or engagement announcements
can also provide valuable information, such as:
- names of the couple's parents - or at least their fathers
- the minister's name or the name of the church -> leads to church records as a source
- often gives relationship of other members of the wedding party
- sometimes names those who attended the wedding; I have even seen a list of all the gifts and who gave them.
Sometimes the paper will tell of a marriage in another location, usually to a former resident. For example, I found this in the Meaford ON paper (keep in mind that Meaford is north of Toronto):
In Duluth MN, on August 5th, by the Rev. A.W. Ringland, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Peter Brown, of St. Pauls, Ramsey Co. MN, to Esther Homeretta McDonald, of Port Arthur ON.Obituaries
, of course, are filled with additional information much of which never appears on a vital record.
This is from the obituary of a young mother who died of TB:
Her illness began in June last, and the disease, though slow at first, soon firmly rooted itself. On the 30th of August, the family, consisting of parents and two children, left their home and drove ninety miles to Qu'Appelle to take the C.P.R. train for Port Arthur. The long journey (about 1600 miles in all) was a tedious and difficult one and was prolonged six days on account of floods on the track, and sickness of all the family but one. It was finished on the steamer Algoma to Owen Sound and a drive to Meaford which was reached on the 11th inst. She died on the 14th.
Obituaries often give names of parents and siblings. They usually give names of survivors and where they lived. And they often give names of those who died previously.
This helps me to know that I have the right person.
And it tells me where to look for the children.
They often include brief biographical information.
I sometimes learn of later marriages.
They often tell of memberships in organizations, which can be a useful lead to other sources.
Details of the funeral can be of interest. My mother's maternal grandfather was George C. Rand, a Boston printer. His funeral was in Newton Center, the Boston suburb where he resided. The newspaper reported:
A special train left Boston at 12:15, carrying a large number of friends and associates of the deceased, who braved the severe snow-storm to show the last tribute of respect ...
Even if you don't know the place of a person's death, you may find clues in the newspaper where their children lived.
When you are looking for a death, don't neglect the 'In Memoriam' or 'Cards of Thanks' notices. Probate notices can also be helpful.
The personals 'gossip' may tell of someone going to another town to attend a wedding or funeral. Divorces
are often listed in newspapers. Divorce records are usually public records so if you find a notice of one in the paper it is worth following up. Those files are full of good information.
Enough on vital events. You get the idea. There are lots of other goodies, especially if you are browsing.