More and more historical newspapers are being scanned and are available online these days. These may be a source of excellent family information for individuals in your family tree. Here are a few ideas on where to look for what kinds of information on your ancestors.
A warning: it is very common for newspapers to get some of the details incorrect because of typos or mis-hearing some of the names or dates. I have seen my grandmother with various names and residences, when I knew for certain where she actually lived and what her correct name was! However, the stories written were fascinating and added details about her other family members as well.
Start by identifying a family group or a specific individual you wish to research. Then identify their residence town or village, or identify a larger center very close by. Also identify the town of their parents, if different from your research person’s residence as an adult. List those towns and details on a sheet of paper, plus the years they lived there (to the best of your knowledge). You will end with a list of individual names, dates, and specific places on one page. Now you can begin to search. Print out a map of the area of your research person’s residence, which will show small villages and towns nearby. This will help you when you try to identify a useful newspaper.
Next identify the specific newspapers of interest to you. Search on Historic Newspapers Online to find listings of newspapers for towns in the county, state or province. You may find that certain newspapers only were in existence for a short time – do those times match your list? Search for the town name plus the word newspaper, and evaluate the results. Has that search helped find several more names of newspapers? Look back at the town and find out where the closest colleges or universities are – they may well have collections of local newspapers, including those no longer being printed. These collections are likely on microfilm or may be indexed and available online.
If a family group had a relative who moved away, that person’s life details may be listed not only in the ‘new’ residence newspaper but also be picked up in the original town. Marriages, awards, graduations, visits, social events, trips abroad, obituaries: all may be re-printed.
Obituaries are one of the most incredible sources of information for you. Filled with details of names, dates, residences, names of children including married daughters’ names, occupations, cause of death, affiliations, church memberships, and more details, obituaries are definitely treasure to be mined! Remember to look in several nearby or relatives’ towns for these obituaries. Search from date of death to approximately 3 weeks later for articles and obituaries. If the cause of death is stated, it is possible there may be earlier articles or notes about the person’s illness in previous months. In this way, I found a daughter from another state came to visit her ill father 2 months before his death, with the article describing her family details as well.
Search at your public library as well for their collections, and find out which newspaper collections they carry. Our local Vancouver Public Library carries collections of a number of Canadian newspapers as well as several other American newspapers. This will certainly save you a trip! You will never know until you search for sources.
You may find that historical newspapers printed the names of ships which arrived in port, and where they came from. In this way, you may find confirmation of your ancestors’ arrival in this country. Then you can search more details of a ship passenger list, and details of the particular ship itself.
Social pages of a newspaper may include visits of your ancestors’ family members from other cities or states. This is particularly true of the smaller towns, where I was able to confirm names of various relatives, and other names of relatives who were new to me. How did they relate if they were called cousins in the article? More details for me to search out.
As you can see newspapers can be a tremendous mine of family information for your files. Of course, you will need to remember that they are only as accurate as the person giving the information, and the person taking the information, but even so, they are a source of rich details which will provide value to your family tree. Enjoy your searches.