Finding Ancestors in Newspapers

When most of begin our genealogy research, we tend to start with sources such as birth, marriage and death records; census records; immigrations records, etc. However, many us are missing out on a research tool that can be a genealogical gold mine. That gold mine is newspaper archives.

Even if your ancestor wasn't famous, there is a chance that his or her name was published in a newspaper at some point. It may be something as simple as a reference to them in a birth, marriage, anniversary or obituary notice. Perhaps he or she was interviewed in reference to a local event.

If you have holes in your family tree, an article in a newspaper may be enough to fill in the blanks. I recently came across a 1987 article about my husband's grandparents renewing their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary. It was a short article, only 7 paragraphs, but it yielded a large amount of information, some of which I knew already, but a lot that I didn't.
  1. Their address at the time of the article
  2. Their exact wedding date
  3. The name of one daughter and her husband
  4. The date and location of that daughter's wedding (They had renewed their vows during the daughter's wedding ceremony)
  5. The name of their son and his wife
  6. The date of their wedding (they shared the same anniversary, but were on their 28th)
  7. The name of a second daughter and her husband
  8. The name of that daughter's child
  9. Where the second daughter and her family lived
  10. The name of a third daughter
  11. Where the third daughter lived
  12. The name of the woman's sister and her husband
  13. Where that couple lived
  14. When the man had retired and from where
  15. Where the woman had retired from
  16. Where they had previously lived
  17. When they moved
  18. Some of their hobbies
  19. The number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren they had at the time
  20. A photograph of the couple
All of that from one little article. A little more searching of this same couple yielded obituaries for both individuals, as well as a marriage announcement for one of the daughters (who was married to a different person at the time of the couple's 50th anniversary). Those three articles added even more information.

While searching newspaper archives isn't guaranteed to work on all of your ancestors, it's worth a shot. The first two names I searched were unsuccessful, but you see the genealogy jackpot I hit on my husband's grandparents.

Newspaper Archives
Google News Archive offers digitized newspapers going back to the 1700s. Once you have searched and found results, you can narrow the date range. It's important to remember that while many of the results are free, some do require a fee or subscription. However, I have found that the excerpt given by Google in the results is usually sufficient for you to determine whether you have the correct person before you make a purchase.

Free Newspaper Archives is not a search engine. Instead, it points you in the right direction. You select the region your ancestor lived in and it will give you a page of links to collections that may help. The majority are free. For those that do require a fee, they note that up front so you can decide whether or not to search that collection or not.


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