Newspapers are a gold mine of information for genealogy research. Facts, context, photographs — what more could you ask for? But if you’re stopping with the “regular” daily and weekly newspapers where your ancestor lived, you might be stopping too soon. Here are 3 other types of newspapers that every genealogist should know.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 42
You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.) Length: 9 minutes.
Before we get started, I have to give a shout-out to one of the best sites with links to free digitized newspapers of all kinds: The Ancestor Hunt.
1. Foreign-Language and Other Ethnic Newspapers
Did your ancestor identify as part of an ethnic group? Be sure to check out newspapers that were published for that ethnicity. They carried news not only of the local area, but of people who used to live there. Because of their smaller audience, they often have stories and obituaries that weren’t included in the larger hometown daily newspapers.
Of course, if the ethnic group you’re interested in didn’t speak English as its first language, the newspaper is likely to be in a different language. How common were foreign language newspapers in the United States? The Library of Congress estimates that there were more than 1,000 German-language newspapers were published in the US by 1890. (The number of German newspapers in the US dwindled rapidly with the start of WWI.)
The obituary below is from the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Wochenblatt (Aug. 16, 1917, p. 4). In English: “August Diesing of Prospect Avenue, 72 years old, died last Thursday night. He is survived by the widow, two sons and two daughters. The funeral took place on Sunday in the Forest Hill Cemetery.”
If you do any African American research, you must look at African American newspapers. Like foreign-language newspapers, they cover not just the local news, but also news of people who used to live in the area, people who have relatives in the area, and give a different perspective on regional and national news.
For example, the Lexington (Kentucky) Standard carried a column from Cincinnati, Ohio which included news items and obituaries, such as this one:
Look for ethnic newspapers at Chronicling America, as well as state libraries and state historical societies.
2. Religious Newspapers
Ledgers of baptisms and weddings aren’t the only things that some denominations record. Some actually publish their own newspapers. For example, the Archdiocese of New Orleans published the Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, a weekly newspaper. Here are the obituaries from the April 14, 1878 edition. They’re short, but the pack a lot of information!
Look for religious newspapers in church archives, state libraries, and state historical societies.
3. School Newspapers
Though we usually think of school newspapers as an exercise in helping students with their writing and photography skills, school newspapers (especially from residential schools) can have lots of biographical tidbits. This could be in the form of student essays or the school equivalent of a society column.
Here’s a bit out of the May 12, 1898 Silent Hoosier, the student newspaper from the Indiana School for the Deaf:
Don’t stop with just the schools that your ancestor attended. Think about the schools that his or her siblings attended. You never know what you’ll find!
You’ll find school newspapers in school archives, state historical societies, and local historical societies. For state schools, also look at state libraries and state archives.
You’re so right! I haven’t yet been lucky enough to find a relevant church newsletter, but the ethnic and school newspapers have been an absolute gold mine of information and colour. If anything, I prefer them to traditional newspapers because they’re much more likely to focus on the doings of people I’m interested in.
Linda Yip, APG
You’re right, Linda — the smaller the audience, the more detail the newspapers have!
the area I’m researching has a German newspaper, but how in the world would I recognize any of my relatives since I can’t read a word of German???? And the typeset they use makes some letters look different, like s looks like f – huh?
Type the word you think you need in this webpage. It will show you what it looks like in German Fraktur printing.
Steve Morse has a webpage that will let you type in a word and see what it looks like in Fraktur (the print/font that was used by most German-language newspapers before WWI). At the top of the page, click the button that says “Fraktur” and then type the word in the box. https://stevemorse.org/german/germanprintcurs.html
I agree! The hometown paper of most of my family had a great “Social” column. It was quite large and gave you insight into the everyday activities of the citizens. Who was going on a trip, who they were visiting and where, who had people over for cards -listing everyone in attendance and their card scores, who was going to a baseball game or a show. My relatives were listed many times and I gained great insight! They also had great detail in wedding articles, baptisms, and obituaries. The wedding articles listed guests, out of town guests, etc. I also found city council records with lots of information and various licensing records. I have a newspapers.com subscription, but have never tried Chronicling America. Can’t wait to try it.
I think you’ll like Chronicling America. There is so much there to explore.
I have searched for many years to find where my 2nd great grandfather was born. He immigrated from Prussia, but no luck finding the town until I read the Peoria Taglicher Demokrat! Bingo! It listed his birthplace!
I had thought to myself….”What would I do if I was an immigrant? Most people wouldn’t know the city I was born in, but the German-speaking immigrants of Peoria, IL might!” Thus, the answer to my question in a German-written newspaper in Peoria.
Nice detective work, Julie!
I just found an 1874 mention of my little-documented great grandfather in the New Orleans Catholic newspaper Morning Star and Catholic Messenger. He was hired to deliver the paper only a year before he died at age 35. Thank you sooo much!
Wow, that’s awesome! Glad I used that as an example!
I love all your posts, Amy, this one included!
Thanks, Liz 🙂
Thank you for the shout out Amy. Could you please change the name to “The Ancestor Hunt” ? The “The” is important. As there is another site without the ,”The”. It is very confusing for readers.
Edit made! Thanks for the clarification!
Try the county newspapers also. I indexed the Johnson County Democrat for our local library. It had great “gossip” columns for all the local areas. These would not only tell when the funeral was held, and where; but who brought what dish for the potluck after the funeral. Who came and where they ate. Sometimes they listed who sent which flowers. Where they lived.
FYI: For anyone looking for obits for service people who died during a war. The obits around here are not published until the government starts sending the deceased home. For small towns it will quite often be on the front page.
Thank you, Amy, for some new places to look for newspapers. I had belonged to the Genealogy Bank for a few years and they were so helpful with their early New England papers. Found so much about my Boston, and Maine early families. Just a line or two back then for weddings or a death but so helpful. Will try the Catholic
newspapers in New Orleans for a friends family. The New Orleans Public Library was wonderful and for so little money a few years back. Found so much of my
husbands family. They sent huge copies of the articles (weddings and death) but found out recently they now request one to join the library. Family Search doesn’t have the “good stuff” from the New Orleans newspaper for some reason.
Two favorites of mine your mentioned ..The Ancestor Hunt and Steve Morse! Both are great. Steve Morse was fantastic for helping the public find their families quickly in the 1940 census.
And now, thanks to you, I have more places to look!
Excellent article and I’m glad you gave “theancestorhunt” a plug. I recommend Kenneth Marks’ site all the time – and I do presentations on newspaper research – it is the best, not only for the listings but all the “how to” videos. Plus he has started Obits and Photos!!
I love newspapers for giving context about our ancestors’ lives. Even the advertisements give wonderful details that give you a real sense of how they might have lived.