Monday, January 21, 2013

SEARCHING FOR STORIES IN NEWSPAPERS

     The increase in the number of archived newspapers online means more ancestral stories for family historians. For some reason, the availability of historical newspapers online has lagged behind other types of genealogical data. So many historical societies own miles of microfilmed newspapers--I wish there were a greater effort to digitize this important resource.
     Without a search engine, it is difficult indeed to find those little nuggets of stories about our ancestors in the old newspapers. While we have a specific date in mind when searching newspapers for events like death notices, we usually do not know the date Uncle Johnny hit a home run for his high school baseball team, or the year Great Aunt Mae won a blue ribbon for her peach pie at the county fair.
     I have been using Genealogy Bank http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ to search for stories about my ancestors because they have a great collection of newspapers back to the early 1800's for the Philadelphia area. By using a search engine and searching by name and by address, I have found wonderful stories that have been lost to my family. My great great grandfather was fired from his job for voting for the "wrong" party in the 1870's. I also found that he was near death from heatstroke a few years later. In other newspapers,  I discovered that  among my ancestors were a murder victim, a church founder, and the head of an entertainment committee. If I had to sit at a microfilm machine and search page by page through almost 200 years of issues, I would never have found these precious stories.
     Check the online collections of individual newspapers, area historical societies, and online news archives like Genealogy Bank for newspapers that might feature stories about your ancestors. Newspapers were very "chatty" back in the 1800's and early 1900's, and you never know what tidbits of personal information about your ancestors that you might find! The more local the paper, the more chance of stumbling across your ancestors' names in church, school, and political news. If you are lucky, you might find a photograph. When searching, don't forget to use nicknames or alternate spellings. Try searching for street numbers and names, also, because these search terms also appear in stories. Have fun finding your ancestors in the news!