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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Learning the Most From Historic Newspapers

Newspaper research can be difficult. Finding access to the publication online or offline as well as discerning what to search for are two great challenges. Not much emphasis has been placed on what to do with the information you discover in articles. It is a shame to let the article be the end result of your search. That is why this Newspaper Extraction Form (click to download) was created. It will help you to digest important details in an historic newspaper article and lead you to further discoveries. Download, and fill in the details electronically.
The Newspaper Extraction Form will help you take notice of the information that has the potential to lead you to historical records and other key people to research. The following is a explanation of important details highlighted on the form:

Title and time period
Use Chronicling America to locate the specific US Newspapers and their dates of publication that may make mention of your ancestors. Keep in mind that sometimes newspaper companies changed hands and names over the years. Just because a publication ended does not mean another one did not begin in the same area covering later time periods. In many cases, more than one newspaper existed in one area.

Notice the different issues that ran in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the same time. Different newspapers had a different focus depending on the interests of their readers. The trick is to figure out which focus was broad enough to include your ancestor. Also, if your ancestor was a Democrat in the Antebellum period, newspapers which catered to readers who were the same affiliation are more likely to either mention your ancestor or relate to your ancestors' way of thinking.

In newspaper research, you should first look for articles that were published in the general area where your ancestor lived, but you should not neglect to expand your search to surrounding locations. When local boundary lines changed, relationships did not. People who had social ties and influence in the former areas may be found both in the newspapers of the former and newly formed county.

It is important to also check the newspapers in areas where family members migrated. People migrated from Southern states to the North. You can find obituaries of ancestors in the new areas even though they remained on the homestead in the South. The opposite is true with the many articles documenting social life. When descendants journeyed home to visit family back home, articles were often published documenting these visits.

Subsequent articles
Always look in later issues for articles that mention the same information again. Estate sales, obituaries, and other events often appear in more than one issue. Sometimes different articles provide additional details. You should look for each instance.

Often, people who are well known that passed away in a community will have a new article mentioning the circumstances of their death and a brief history of their lives. The article published in the next issue will give the details about the funeral and burial. It is also very common to find memoriams published exactly one year later in remembrance of the lost loved one.

Article types
The most common article type accessed in genealogy is the obituary. Many libraries and societies have indexed obituaries making it easier to locate a death record. When you find access to a newspaper obituary, you should also search for other article types that may reveal more about your ancestor. This is not easy to do when the newspaper is only available on microfilm, but you may discover more of your ancestor's story by putting forth a little extra effort.

These are a few of the other topics of articles that you might find in a newspaper:
  • estate sale
  • local history
  • court notice
  • immigration
  • war
  • cemetery
  • church
  • school
  • sports
Names mentioned
Be very thorough when extracting information from an article. Try not to overlook the names of people you do not know and whose relationship to your ancestor is not clear. These are opportunities for you to research further. Use other sources like city directories and vital records (birth, marriage, and death) to learn more about possible connections to your family.

Historical records that may exist
Newspaper articles can help immensely in determining the existence of specific historical records that you may not have yet accessed. For example, when you find an obituary, you should search courthouse indices for probate records or wills. If the person owned land or property, search for how they acquired that land and what happened to it after their death. Even if your ancestor did not own property, perhaps they can be found among mortgage records. You will be more effective by keeping an open mind instead of building a wall believing your people never owned anything. 


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