Sunday, August 3, 2014

Using newspapers in genealogy research

In this past week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Jesse Tyler Ferguson utilized old newspapers to follow the life and misadventures of his great-grandfather.

In my own research, I've found newspaper archives to be invaluable on many levels.

Firstly, they can "fill in the blanks" when vital records are not available. For example, no death record can be found for my 3rd great-grandfather Joshua PALMER, either online or by the New Hampshire vital records department. But on, I found a death notice for him, showing that he died in Concord, New Hampshire on 25 May 1864.

Another newspaper archive I found confirmed the identities of a 4th great-grandmother's parents.

Death notice for Joshua Palmer in the New Hampshire Patriot And State Gazette on June 8, 1864

Secondly, newspaper articles can supplement the bald facts we have about our ancestors, making their lives three-dimensional and not simply names and dates. The death record of another 3rd great-grandfather, William WINSLOW, gives his cause of death as "intemperance and exposure" (translation: "he froze to death while drunk"). I found-- again, on GenealogyBank--  an article describing how he had been socializing with friends the evening prior, and had left to walk home. When he hadn't made it home by the morning, a search party was formed. They found him in the woods, and rushed him to his house, but it was too late.. he passed away. The article made no mention of his being inebriated, probably out of respect for his widow and children.

Thirdly, and unrelated to genealogy, old newspapers are simply fantastic historical time capsules. On the same page as an article about the tragic death of my mother's uncle in a fire was an interesting blurb related to the U.S.'s increasing involvement in Vietnam, as well as a restaurant advertisement for an Easter dinner special.

So don't forget to explore old newspapers when looking for information about your ancestors! A few sites to get started:, GenealogyBank, and