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Newspaper Archives and Genealogy

Old News Is Good News!

Old newspaper archives contain a great deal of genealogy information about the area where your ancestors lived.

1898 Ontario High School Graduate
1898 Ontario High School Graduate

Take the time to dig through the newspaper morgue resources and you may find a variety of data about your family.

They can provide you with the meat of your family tree which helps you fill in the skeleton-only portion which we all tend to look for - the dates and places.

Many localities used to have, and may still have, one or more papers. Depending upon the dates for your family in that area, there may be quite a bit of information available from those local files.

Where Do You Look for Newspaper Archives?

If the paper still publishes, the paper itself will probably have quite extensive files. Depending upon the paper, and its size and resources, these old articles may or may not be indexed.

If the old newspaper archives are indexed, especially by names of individuals in the clipping, your job will be much easier. It means you may be able to simply reference the index, find all references to members of your family, and examine each of the referenced items. In many places, you will also be able to make photocopies of such items that interest you. You may also be allowed to take a photograph of the article. If you cannot do either of these things, then you will have to transcribe it into your notes, very carefully.

If the items are not indexed, it means you will have to read through the articles in some semblance of order to find references to your family history. This takes longer. If you have driven to an area to spend a day or several days, you may have to spend longer than you anticipated.

Libraries, historical associations, or archives may have collected past issues of the newspapers and microfiched or microfilmed them. This is true whether or not the paper still publishes. In that case, you will need to go to the repository where the work resides, and use their facilities to read the items.

It is possible that your family lived in an area where the past issues of the local newspapers have been microfilmed or microfiched by a provincial, state, or university archive. In those cases, it is usually possible for you to have the old newspaper archives microfilm sent to your local library on inter-library loan so you do not have to travel to the larger repository. Such a request may have a fee attached to it, but it is usually a small amount. There most likely will also be a time limit on how long your local library may keep the material before they must return it to the central repository for someone else to use.

If the local newspaper no longer exists, use other resources in the local area to find out what newspapers used to publish and when they published. It is not uncommon to find that within a local area, especially smaller areas, there were a series of newspapers over time. Some published at the same time as others; perhaps as broadsheets for the major political parties in the area. Sometimes they published serially. So a paper might have published from 1820-1829, and then gone out of business, with another paper beginning to publish in 1831 and lasting until 1853.

Good local sources for information about the local old newspaper archives, past and present, in an area include schools, municipal offices, and libraries.

What Do You Look For in Old Newspaper Archives?

Even in the "old" days, there were certain newspaper sections that always existed. These included births, marriages, and deaths. Even if you have found the official vital statistics registrations for these milestones in your ancestor's life, the old newspaper archives accounts will often have additional information which adds color and human interest to the otherwise sterile facts of dates and places.

For example, a birth registration may tell you someone was born on this date in this place to these parents. But, an announcement may add additional details such as names of siblings and grandparents. Both of these can give you information you never had. There may be a sibling for whom you have never found a birth registration, and who does not show up on the census.

If you have ever tried to determine whether a child is actually the child of your ancestor, the addition of the grandparents' names might help make that decision. Many old papers included such information in their announcements.

The same thing applies to marriage and death notices in the paper. They very often contain much more information than the official vital statistics registrations give you.

Another area of the old newspaper archives which may give you insight into your ancestors, is articles detailing meetings of local groups, be they political, fraternal, professional, or just social.

Also, don't forget to read the personals and the classifieds since both of those sections in any local newspaper deal with people. Your relative may have had something to sell or buy. They may have had relatives visiting which was noted in the personals - and those may be relatives you did not know about!

Look at the other ads in the paper for your ancestor's business. Was your ancestor a pharmacist, dentist, hardware store owner, farm implement dealer, or a livestock feed dealer?

Don't forget the sports items, the school articles, and the general news items as well. They may have mentions of your ancestor. Perhaps she played on a school team. Perhaps he graduated first in his class and went to university. Perhaps the family cared for many foster children or was acknowledged with a volunteer award.

In all cases, be sure to document the source of all information you find. You need to record the name of the publication, date, page and column number of the item for each item you find. This needs to be kept with the item itself so you know which citation belongs to which item.

Whatever else you do, be certain to leave with a copy of the documents you found. You should do this when you find an item that pertains to your family - not at some future time. For any number of reasons, you may never have another chance to make some sort of a copy. There are many ways of preserving your newly-found genealogy information, and it is vital that you do so.

Act Like a Reporter - Use Those Newspaper Archives



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