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When you think of using newspapers for genealogyresearch, be honest, what do you think of first? Obituaries! In general, mostpeople automatically think of obituaries, too. However, newspapers are aresource that can be used for much more. They are a useful tool for findingyour ancestor’s unique story, as well as for building an understanding of thehistorical events that may have shaped your ancestor’s life. For example, ifyour ancestor wrote or talked about an historical event, finding contemporarydocumentation can add more depth to your family narrative. If great AuntSusannah mentioned the horrible flooding in Denver, Colorado, in July 1912,checking the local or national newspapers might reveal more details than AuntSusannah was saying.

Some of the many reasonswhy ancestors can be found in newspapers:

Birth announcements

School reports, graduation announcements,scholarships awarded

Marriage and engagement announcements

Divorce decrees

Land sales and purchases

Political associations or careers

Criminal activities, legal disputes

Military pensions granted

Invention patents recorded

Social activities

Charitable work

Church activities

Musical or theatrical performances

Notice of movement, such as a visit to a farawayrelative, relocation to a new city, a vacation or business trip

Accidents or Illnesses

Special anniversaries or birthdays

Business advertisements

Medical advertisements with testimonials


Funeral notices

Estate sales

Newspapers are great resources, but sometimes theyare difficult to find. The Library of Congress has a great resource forlocating newspapers, as well as their own digital collection of newspapers at Chronicling America.  The website also includes the index “U.S.Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present.” This is a comprehensive database with over150,000 titles from all 50 states. Information on each newspaper ranges fromwhen and where the paper was published to which repositories contain copies ofthe paper today. 

There are several resources for digital newspapers online thoughthe vast majorities remain in local archives. By starting with the U.S.Newspaper Directory, you can determine whether or not a local paper existed inthe area where your ancestor lived, and then, you can find the repository thathouses the newspaper. Some repositories have staff members that are able tohelp locate specific articles. Many have limited manpower and time restraints,and do not have hours to spend searching through reels of microfilm. 

This iswhere a member from theGenealogists.com team can help. With access torepositories around the country (and the world), they can access historicalnewspapers and take the time to locate those news worthy items that highlightedyour ancestors’ lives.

Article by Deborah Sweeney, the Genealogy Lady 

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Written by


April 20, 2015
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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