Newspaper can be used for more than to wrap fish!
Newspapers have a long and honorable history in the United States. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for example, was published by Ben Franklin from 1729-1766. It was one of the most successful, if not the most successful paper in the colonies. It was the first paper to use cartoons and maps to illustrate news stories. And like papers, generally, carried obituaries.
Obituaries are the first resource we usually think of in connection with this medium. It is a rich resource because obituaries can be used not only to learn death dates of individuals.
They often also list the birth date of the person, significant accomplishments of the subject, and their relatives. Spouses and children are most important among those listed. Not to be overlooked, however, are siblings and other relatives.
Learn the value of collateral kinships. A fourth cousin with the Spanish surname Diaz may seem an unlikely resource for an Irish surname like Logsdon. But if her 4-great-grandfather was a Logsdon, she might be looking for the same ancestor you are.
Obituaries are not the only data source for genealogists. Wedding announcements and descriptions can also be found in newspapers. And not only for the rich and famous.
My own wedding is a case in point. I had no accomplishments to provide news value for a story. And my bride was simply a five-and-dime store clerk and the daughter of a South Georgia share-cropper widow.
Why would a story be written about us?
Because her sister made a beautiful wedding gown and submitted a picture of my bride in the gown with the story. The Miami Herald picked up the story and gave ten column inches to a story about a young couple who had so far accomplished nothing of note in their lives.
The vagaries of newspaper publishing are such that when an editor reaches a publishing deadline he or she will grasp at any news piece to fill the blank spaces so long as it is adequately written and has any inkling of human interest.
Again, wedding stories, or even announcements, may contain valuable genealogical information.
And also, newspapers often contain human interest or news stories that have genealogical value. You might not be proud of the ancestor who was arrested for chicken stealing or desertion, but if the story gives information, be grateful for the story.
Did your grandmother hit a cow the first time she tried to drive a car? Did it result in a scathing article on women drivers by a sexist editor? Be grateful.
Did your cousin Louie’s bull win first prize at the FFA Fair and get written up? Be grateful.
Did your great-grandfather get arrested for a barroom brawl? Be grateful.
No news is bad news for a genealogist.
Look for lists–graduation lists, inductees into the army, members of sports teams, winners of contests, church groups involved in charitable work, folks who contributed books to the new library–all kinds of lists.
Look for birth announcements.
Look for candidates in local politics. My grandmother’s brother was mayor of their little town. I never even knew it until I searched old newspaper files. He had been considered the black sheep of the family for being involved in politics. They never discussed him.
Many newspapers are now available on the internet. Old copies frequently have not been indexed and digitized for Internet use, but there still is lots of valuable data to be found. Not only obituaries which give old data. Also, you may find columns like “News from 25 years ago today,” columns with helpful information.
Don’t forget, not only names are important. Events contemporary with an ancestor can provide content for understanding and telling about that ancestor. And, it may be a source of leads for other resources to search, say members of the local volunteer fire company.
One index of old newspapers can be found at
To find most online newspapers worldwide, go to
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Never overlook the value of newspapers--old and new.