Using A Newspaper To Find Your Ancestor
Newspapers are a great source for finding out about your ancestors. Many go back to the 18th Century. Some even farther!
So what kind of information can you find newspapers local for your ancestor?
Obituaries are a great source of information! Here you are likely to find the names of parents, siblings, spouse, children (and sometimes the children's spouse), and in some obituaries you may find the names of grandchildren, or even great grandchildren! You may find their birth date and birth place. Sometimes the date of death is in the obituary, but more likely will be the day. To determine the date, be sure to check the date of that particular edition of the paper, and then using Google, search for what day of the week that was on. With that information you can then extrapolate the date of the day your ancestor died on. However, I do give you this one word of advice, extrapolating a date, and the exact date, may not be without error! So until you can locate an actual record with that ancestor's information, I would preface the date I extrapolated with either the "abt." feature of your genealogy program, or the "c." feature. This lets everyone know that the particular date you have listed may not be the exact date. Later, if you obtain a death record, you can replace the preface if you need to, or dismiss it. You might, also, find your ancestors occupation and place of employment listed, educational accomplishments, military service, or affiliations.
Many newspapers will list the births of new babies in the community. Again, I would preface with either the "abt." or "c." when entering a date here, until a legal document is located. In this feature you will find the infant's full name, the names of the parents, sometimes listing the mother's maiden name, and occasionally one or both parents occupation's. Sometimes grandparents or siblings are also included. And residence is sometimes listed as well.
Here you might have an engagement announcement prior to the actual wedding. If you don't find a wedding announcement in the coming papers, recheck and see if this couple actually followed through and got married. Occasionally one, or both, will back out of an engagement, although, traditionally, this is less likely the farther back in history we go. Once you find the marriage announcement, this record usually lists both the full name of the Bride and of the Groom. Traditionally it will list the parents names, the best man, and the maid of honor. And on some occasions, the minister or clergy who performed the ceremony; soloist, or musician(s). Description of the wedding gown, and a photo of either the Bride, or both the Bride and Groom. Occupation(s) may also be listed. Honeymoon destinations, and place of residence after the honeymoon is also traditionally listed.
Many types of legal records may be listed in newspapers. You may find probate records, court case records, bankruptcies, adoptions, and name change records are but a few. You may also find names of relatives, and places of residence in these records.
These are more prevalent under the society columns, but they may be found elsewhere, as well. Family reunions are often photographed and posted in the paper, along with a list of those in the photograph. Birthday celebrations, especially those marking a milestone (i.e. sweet 16, 100 years, etc.) Heroic acts might be found in photographs. Horrific accidents and murders are often found in the paper as well.
These are but a few things you may uncover in newspaper searches.
You may find newspapers archived with the original newspaper company, or one that has since purchased or taken over the original paper. Local libraries are also a great place to search. I forewarn you, that at either place you may have to work your way through dust, musty long ago bound newspapers, or worse, the dreaded stacks of piled papers! Most have bound their papers to prevent deterioration. However, some put their newspapers on microfiche to protect them. These are easier on your allergies to search through, but can be just as tedious! If you are not familiar with a microfiche, or microfilm reader, don't worry. Archivists, and librarians are great at helping you with them. (I've never learned to handle these on my own, although they aren't complicated. I simply always ask for assistance, and everyone has always been so nice at helping!) Many online subscription services such as Ancestry.com , Genealogy Bank , or Newspaper Archive , include newspaper records from as late as the 17th century. I suggest using a Boolean Search first before doing an exact search, as names may be misspelled in newspaper articles ( a common occurrence). A Boolean Search will search phonetically or variant spellings first. For instance when searching for my Maiden surname, Beane, I find it spelled Bean (which is correct for my ancestor's), Biehn, Bien, and even Been! You might also search for a parent's name, or a siblings name if you get no hits using your ancestor's name. However, I warn you, with a Boolean Search and surnames that are not unique, you will get ALOT of useless finds as well. For instance, searching for my ancestors Bean, will also bring up the price of bean seeds, or canned beans on sale in the paper! And with my married surname, Henry, you will also get every man with a first name of Henry as well. To prevent this from happening, use the "+" sign for putting in your search parameters. For instance my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather were both named William. So I would put in "William+Bean", and this gives the search engine the parameter of finding only those two words when put together, and not every William, or every Bean! (Same with my married name, I won't get every man whose first name is Henry if I put the first name I am searching for and add the "+" before the last name.)
Also, if you know the address of where your ancestor lived, and say something happened that hit the paper on his block, or next door, be sure to record that information! You never know when that might be useful!
Also, be sure to do a proper citation for your find. List the name of the paper, the town and state. List the editor's name, and the author's name for the article, if provided. List the day and date the paper was distributed. List the page number, the column, and the paragraph where the article can be found. For instance: Src: The Monroe Watchman, Tuesday, March 1, 1892, C. Mohler Editor; pg 4, Obituaries, col. 2, para. 3, John Doe, author unknown. This information as citation, allows anyone to go directly to that source and find the article should they want, or need, to.
Take the time to search the newspapers for your ancestors! You may be surprised at just what you might find!