When researching your ancestors, do you have any stories to go along with each person? This tends to be the more difficult aspect of doing genealogy as it’s so easy to go on FamilySearch, Ancestry, Find My Past, or even MyHeritage and find out when and where they were born, where they lived throughout their lives and even when they died. But figuring out who they were is a bit more challenging.
One of the ways I have learned about my family members is using newspapers. There are a variety of options available for free and with subscriptions for you to find stories about your relatives.
Some historic newspapers are available for free (one of my favorite words). The most popular is Chronicling America ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) which is a joint endeavor between the Library of Congress and National Endowment of the Humanities. It has newspapers from 1789-1963 that are digitized for your use.
Another free option may be available with your library card is Newspaper Archive Academic Library Edition (my library has this and can be accessed from my house, check out to see if your library has a newspaper database similar to this).
Newspapers.com is one of the larger subscription sites for newspapers available for genealogy. They are owned by Ancestry.com so if you have a tree there, it is easy to attach the articles. Some subscriptions of Ancestry now include Newspapers.com (I believe you are accessing the articles through Ancestry searches though). Newspapers.com has 2 levels of subscriptions, basic and Publishers Extra. Publisher’s Extra is the higher priced edition but seems to have most of the newspapers I truly needed to find information and obituaries on my people (primarily because of the Akron Beacon Journal – but there were some key newspapers for the different areas of Pennsylvania I needed as well).
GenealogyBank is another popular website who is also expanding out from just newspapers to adding census information and the like. They have a great blog that is emailed out monthly as well.
Things to Look For
If you are going to spend the money on a subscription site I highly recommend looking at what newspapers that are available and the published years they have. I’ll confess I accidentally signed up for a subscription site and it was of no use to me because the issues they had published didn’t really help me in my genealogical searches (for example they had the Bedford Gazette from 1854-1857 only, and I needed from 1870 on). Both Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank list what newspapers they have available and their years of publication that is available on their sites (Newspapers.com will also note which newspapers are available on their more expensive level, Publishers Extra).
All of the websites have ways to narrow your search by state, date, name to help bring to light the information you are seeking.
What Can You Find?
You may be lucky enough to find all kinds of interesting tidbits about your relatives when you do newspaper searches. They can range from everyday occurrences to being a bit on the juicy side (older newspapers use to have sections detailing who checked in to the local hotels, and just good old “gossip” sections).
Below is one of my favorites that I discovered on a free weekend of Newspapers.com last Spring that actually convinced me to purchase a subscription. It is an article from The Potter Enterprise from the Thursday, February 11, 1904 edition:
Orienta (Gustin) Warner is my 3rd-Great-Grandmother on my mother’s side. They have her daughter’s name mis-typed here, it’s listed as Nellie but her nickname was Nettie. Her name is Jeanette Warner and she is my 3rd-Great-Aunt. I am assuming the fatherless child is her son, Thomas who was born in 1904.
In keeping with the same family, here is another article from The Potter Enterprise from August 14, 1913 edition – this actually lists my 2nd-Great-Grandmother (Mazie Warner Dunbar) twice, and her daughter (Myrtle Dunbar) once.
I’ve also learned that using newspapers can give you the full story on tragedies in your family as well. On my dad’s side, my 2nd-Great-Uncle, Charles Peter Childers, had 2-children die in a house fire. Going off stories typed up on Ancestry it makes it seem that half of his 13 children died in this fire, but when reading the newspaper headlines (along with finding the death certificates) you know it was only 2-children, Eva Childers, age 9 (the article is incorrect and have her listed as age 11) and Ralph Childers, age 2. This article I found using the library website. The below clippings (they were on 2-pages of the newspaper) is from the March 27, 1939 edition of the Altoona Mirror:
When I found the following article from the Akron Beacon Journal about my grandfather, Harold Fairhurst, my aunt proceeded to add to the story about how my grandfather had won a year’s supply of Pepsi for his hole in one, which jogged my memory of my mom telling me the same. It is from Thursday, September 17, 1964 edition:
I continue to learn a lot about my family members by using newspapers. If nothing else, they are a wonderful source for obtaining obituaries so I am able to fill in the burial date and cemeteries in my genealogy program if I don’t have a death certificate.
If you have never taken the time to investigate your family in newspapers, I recommend checking it out. The weekend Newspapers.com was free last year was amazing me for me as I found so much interesting information. Now, if it could only make it easier to find George Blair in Blair County, PA, then I’d be set (FYI – anytime Blair for the County is mentioned I get a ding so when I searched just now there are 1,299,020 possibilities in Pennsylvania alone).
If you find or have found any interesting stories using newspapers, please share in the comments!