Newspapers provide rich information for family history research. They are available at country, state, county, and town levels with all kinds of records to build your family tree.
Before government birth, marriage, and death records were established, parents shared their joy in local newspapers by announcing new babies. Those birth announcements may reveal clues to breaking through genealogical roadblocks.
They Are Timely
Newspapers contain the earliest possible information on important events in our ancestor’s lives. While birth, marriage, and death records might seem the first place to start research, starting with newspapers is often more useful. The reason is that, unlike vital records certificates, which only give you the essential facts (name, sex, date, and place of birth), newspaper reports on these events will usually be much more detailed and include other significant information such as the name of parents, relatives, occupations, etc.
Moreover, because of the nature of news reporting, a relative will likely have been interviewed or featured in a newspaper article about their personal life or professional accomplishments, not to mention the fact that many families will publish their announcements of births, marriages, and deaths in newspapers if only to inform family members.
Before the advent of online newspaper databases, researching old newspaper records was a long and arduous task. Even if you knew which newspaper to search and had an idea of the period for the event, looking up birth records would require scanning the entire newspaper for mentions of that name or subject, sometimes hundreds of pages in one sitting. This is why online databases are so invaluable to modern genealogists. The best ones are indexed and searched by keywords, making finding information on your ancestors far more efficient.
They Are Comprehensive
Newspapers have a wide variety of sections. They typically contain national and local news, sports, society news, advertisements, comics, etc. It is common for newspapers to publish editorials and insights written by the editorial staff or by readers who submit letters to the editors. Newspapers can be classified in several ways, including by their size and frequency of publication. One popular classification is between broadsheets and tabloids, which refer to the different sizes of newspapers.
In addition to obituaries and marriage announcements, which can provide valuable genealogical information, many local newspapers also publish birth announcements. These can be a great source of information about family relationships, especially for people who were not close relatives of their parents. They can also provide helpful historical context about a community, such as the names of businesses and schools, social events, and religious affiliations.
Whether or not your ancestors read the paper, reading it yourself can be a great way to stay current on what is happening in your area. It keeps you informed, and research has shown that regular reading can help improve your mental health and slow the aging process. This is because the more you use your brain, the better it works. It becomes weaker and less flexible when you don’t use your mind.
They Are Free
Newspapers are important sources of family history information as substitutes or supplements to official civil records. Obituaries, for example, often provide vital statistics when death and marriage records are missing or cannot be located. Newspapers also take on added significance when official records are lost or destroyed).
Although mandatory birth registration only began in the 1900s, newspapers have been announcing and documenting births since the 1700s. While a birth announcement may not contain all the details you would find in a modern birth certificate, it will typically include the mother’s maiden name and the father’s and child’s full names.
The potential wealth of information gleaned from old newspaper records is tremendous and can cover virtually any aspect of an individual’s life. In addition to the typical birth, obituary, and marriage announcements, newspapers can offer clues to business, social, or religious affiliations, a historical context of a community or locale, probate court and legal notices, real estate transactions, and much more. Using newspaper records to find family history information is a great way to connect to an ancestor and their world personally. With the advent of online newspaper archives, this research tool has never been more accessible than it is now.
They Are Easy to Access
Newspapers are a very easy source to access and provide far more information than one might expect. It used to be that using newspaper records required a trip to the local library or historical society and physically searching through microfilm or microfiche, sometimes hundreds at a time. Now that many online services offer old newspapers, locating what you want without the trip is much easier.
While obituaries are the best known and most utilized newspaper genealogical resources, it is important not to limit your search to just these. Newspapers report on all types of non-vital events that occurred in a community and can provide historical context to your ancestor’s lives. These include wedding announcements, children’s birthday parties with guest lists, stories about military men coming home from war, and articles of local human interest.
In addition, if your ancestor was politically active or well-known in the community, they were likely to be featured in society columns or other regular articles highlighting their accomplishments. They could also be mentioned in court cases, lawsuits, or other legal proceedings posted to the public. They might even be listed on a list of people who were fined or incarcerated or involved in land sales or settlements. This can be very helpful for families missing vital information from other sources like death records.