Researching your female ancestors is often tricky, but historical newspapers can help you break through those frustrating brick walls. So we’re launching a 3-part series on how to do newspaper research into the women in your family tree. This is the first post in the series.Sun, Feb 7, 1909 – Page 39 · Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com
You can find women mentioned in just about any section of historical newspapers—from big front-page headlines to small back-page classifieds. But the way women have historically been perceived and written about means there are some newspaper sections that are particularly valuable for research into our female ancestors.
Here are 10 of our favorite newspaper sections for uncovering information about the lives of women:
1. Birth Announcements. Finding the newspaper birth announcement for your female ancestor can reveal information like her birthdate, birth location, maiden name, and parents’ (and even grandparents’) names. Depending on the time period, you might even find her baby photo!
But don’t stop at just the woman’s birth announcement—look for the birth announcements for all her children and even grandchildren. Each announcement may reveal something new, such as where the family was living during that particular year.
2. Engagement & Wedding Announcements. If your female ancestor was married, a newspaper announcement for her engagement or wedding can help you discover quite a bit about her. Things you might learn include the wedding date and place, bride’s and groom’s names, parents’ names, family religion, members of the wedding party, wedding guests, name of the minister, where the couple planned to live, description of bride’s dress, and details of the ceremony/reception/shower. There could even be a photo of her in her wedding dress! If the family was relatively prominent in the community, the engagement or wedding announcement can be quite long and disclose a lot of information about the woman’s life.
As with birth announcements, you should also look for the engagement and wedding announcements for a woman’s children, as these might share information about her as the mother of the bride or groom.Sat, Jul 14, 1934 – Page 8 · The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com
3. Divorce Proceedings. As much as we hope our ancestors had happy marriages, this was not always the case. Newspaper accounts of divorces can help you learn her husband’s name, when they were married, when they were divorced, were they were living, and sometimes the details of what the marriage was like. Some high-profile divorces even got full-length articles written about the proceedings.
4. Obituaries. Finding an obituary for any ancestor is like hitting the jackpot, but they’re especially priceless for the women in your family tree. While the length of obituaries varies widely, you can often learn things like death date and place, birth date and place, occupation/interests, past places of residence, notable accomplishments, names and place of residence of close family, mortuary/cemetery used, burial date, and cause of death. If you’re lucky, a photo of the woman is sometimes included!
Don’t forget to search for the obituaries of anyone closely related to your female ancestor—such as parents, husbands, siblings, and children. Any of these obituaries might reveal information about the woman you are researching.
READ MORE: Learn more about newspaper obituaries
5. Anniversary Party & Family Reunion Recaps. If you’re trying to figure out how and if your female ancestor is related to another family, newspaper write-ups about wedding anniversary parties and family reunions can be a major help. These types of newspaper content often included lists of family and friends who attended the event, which can help you straighten out your family tree—and maybe even help you find a few new names as well.
You may also learn information like her husband’s name, the date and location of the marriage, how many children and grandchildren she had, and where she was living.Family reunion photo with info about those pictured Thu, Sep 13, 1917 – Page 5 · Lansing State Journal (Lansing, Michigan) · Newspapers.com
6. Local News-In-Brief Columns. A staple of small- and mid-sized towns starting around the 1880s, these local columns captured the doings of local residents—including illnesses, injuries, vacations, guests, anniversaries, birthdays, business ventures, and surprising events. If you’re lucky enough to find a female relative mentioned in one of these columns, you might discover where she went to visit a relative, who she spent holidays with, when she was admitted to the hospital, and more.
And we can’t stress it enough—be sure to look for her relatives and spouse too. A piece about the woman’s brother might not mention her by name, but it might say he’s visiting his sister in a such-and-such a town, which then lets you know where she was living!
7. Club, Organization & Church News. Did your female ancestor belong to a club, organization, or church? Many women did, and the newspaper is a great place to learn about the activities your relative was involved in.
Even if you only find your ancestor mentioned on a membership roster or in a list of event attendees, you can search the newspaper for more news of that club or organization to learn the types of activities your relative may have participated in. And if there’s a group photo included of an event or meeting, don’t forget to check it for your ancestor’s face, even if they aren’t mentioned in the caption.Women’s fencing class photo with list of members Wed, Jul 2, 1902 – Page 1 · The Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio) · Newspapers.com
8. Recipe & Household Hint Sections. If the female relative you’re researching was a good cook or housekeeper extraordinaire, you just might find a recipe or housekeeping tip that she submitted to her local newspaper. How amazing would it be to find a recipe from your ancestor in the newspaper that you then can try making?
9. Classifieds. Was your female relative selling something? Trying to buy something? Looking for work? Hiring household help? Renting a room? Looking for a lost item? Trying to gain new customers for a business? Find out in the classified section!
10. Police Blotters & Criminal Trial Accounts. We may be dismayed to discover that a woman in our family tree committed a crime or was arrested, but these unfortunate situations can actually provide us with all kinds of information about the woman. Newspaper criminal accounts can reveal where the woman was living, her age, family members’ names, and more. The article can also give us some insight into the kind of life she was living at the time.Sat, Apr 24, 1886 – Page 6 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.com
We hope these suggestions gave you some new ideas of newspaper sections you can mine for information about your female relatives! Come back next week to learn our top search tips for finding your female ancestors in the newspaper.
Got any tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments!
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