Newspapers are a great source for genealogy and history information. They can provide new details about your family through obituaries, human interest stories and the society pages. Newspapers can also provide background stories and unexpected context that flesh out your ancestors’ lives and experiences. So, here are some examples of the family history information to be gleaned from newspapers.
Vital records articles cover birth, marriage and death information. These can include vital statistics columns from local hospitals, marriage announcements in the society pages and obituaries. Those columns give you biographical details on specific ancestors and can help you outline familial structures. Obituaries are a particularly good source for details, as they often name parents, siblings and children. They are especially useful prior to the use of birth and death certificates.
Legal notice articles also provide insight into your ancestors’ lives. Court notices may list all the cases being heard in local courts or they may list cases where public notice is required, such as name changes. These columns also include listings of land transfers, so if you are researching property or trying to figure out exactly where your ancestors lived, these articles can help.
Society pages document the doings of the members of a community. In big cities, these columns often focus on the lives of the rich and famous, but in smaller communities everyone is covered. Do you want to know what they ate at the annual community picnic? Interested in what your great-grandmother got at her wedding shower? These articles are for you! Beyond knowing the minute details of your ancestors’ lives, those who attended momentous life events were often close friends and family, giving you an idea of who your ancestors knew and with whom they associated.
Even advertisements tell us about our ancestors’ lives. Grocery ads, clothing ads, car ads, etc., show us the products people of the past bought and used. Some products are still on the market today, but many are things that are no longer available. Relatedly, columns covering fashion, cooking and housekeeping also show how people lived.
Local news columns show details about the past, from weather forecasts to crime reporting to local election results. These articles show the day to day events our ancestors experienced as well as local responses to and state and national events. They provide a contemporaneous perspective on past events.
Looking for newspapers? All the images used in this article were taken from Hoosier State Chronicles, the Indiana State Library’s free digital newspaper database. We also offer access to several subscription newspaper databases in the library, as well as the world’s largest collection of Indiana newspapers, accessible on microfilm.
This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, Genealogy Division supervisor.