3 Ways You Can Learn About Your Irish Immigrant Ancestors Using Newspapers

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for hitting that infamous brick wall. If traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.

Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.

But what if your ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if you don’t find them mentioned by name.

Here are 3 ways you can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.

Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]
Genealogical map of Ireland, 1916. Go HERE to access the full-size image [Elmira Star-Gazette, 03.17.1916]

1. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.

Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.

A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.

So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.

One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic. 

2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.

Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.

Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]
Irish immigrant family arriving in New York [Elmira Star-Gazette, 12.05.1929]

If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors. 

If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.

3. Newspapers can help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.

Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:

Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.

Explore Further

We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!

These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been like.  

Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on Newspapers.com.

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Hometown Tour Guide: Exploring Your Ancestors’ Hometown Through Newspapers

Ever wish you had a time machine so you could travel back in time to see what your ancestors’ lives were like? While we can’t give you a time machine, we can give you what may be the next best thing: the ability to visit your ancestors’ hometown without leaving your couch. How can you do this? With newspapers!

If you’ve already searched for your ancestors’ names in the papers, fleshing out what their lives may have been like is the next step in discovering their story. And since the place a person lived often had a big impact on what their daily life was like, it’s worth putting in some time to learn about it.

This is where newspapers come in, because they are a nearly bottomless resource for finding out what life was like in the towns and cities they served. The added benefit to this approach is that even if you can’t find your ancestors mentioned by name in a newspaper, you can still use the paper to help you piece together the details of their lives.

For your journey, we’ve put together a “tour guide” of sorts to help you use newspapers to explore your ancestors’ hometown and learn more about their lives in the process. Check it out!

A street scene in St. James, Missouri, in 1915. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1957)

A street scene in St. James, Missouri, in 1915. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1957)

HOMETOWN TOUR GUIDE

Step 1: Find your paper

In many cases, Newspapers.com will have a newspaper (or more than one!) from the town or city your ancestors lived in. But if we don’t, here are some tips for locating other papers that may be useful in your research.

  • Use the Newspapers Map on our site to find the paper closest to the town or city where your ancestors lived. Zoom in on a specific geographical region to find out which papers were being published in the area. Adjust the date slider to see papers from a particular time frame (such as the years your ancestor lived there).
  • Find out which county your ancestors’ hometown is in, and then look for a paper from the county seat. Newspapers from the county seat often contain news from surrounding towns. You can see which papers from a particular county are on Newspapers.com by using the advanced search. Just enter the county name into the Place/Paper Location field, and hit the search button.
  • Look at papers from similar-sized towns or cities in the same part of the state. While each community has its differences, life was probably fairly similar in towns of the same size from the same region.
  • Use the date and location filters on the Papers page to find papers in the state your ancestors lived in that were published while they lived there.

Step 2: Find representative issues of the paper

Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some issues of the paper to look at. We recommend you pick a few issues from a variety of years in your ancestor’s life. (You could even pick significant dates in their lives, such as the day they were born, started school, got married, passed away, and so on.) The more issues you look at, the more detailed your understanding of the town will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one!

A business in Fremont, Ohio, in 1933. (Fremont Messenger, 09.18.1933)

A business in Fremont, Ohio, in 1933. (Fremont Messenger, 09.18.1933)

Step 3: Browse the paper

You might be surprised at how much you can learn about a town from seemingly unimportant newspaper sections. We’ve come up with 15 parts of the newspaper we suggest you look through, but the possibilities are nearly endless. We’ve also included some questions to ask yourself to help guide your journey.

  1. Ads/classifieds – What businesses were in town? Where did people shop? What products were available? How much did things cost? What services were individuals offering? What types of jobs were being advertised?
  2. Train & ship ads/schedules Which places could people from the town or city easily travel to? Was their hometown a travel hub? (If it was, this probably meant increased exposure and access to outside fashions, trends, lifestyles, etc.)
  3. Weather reports What was each of the four seasons like? If it was a farming area, did it receive enough rain for a good harvest? Were there any big weather events (blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.) that would’ve affected the townspeople’s lives?
  4. Photos What were people wearing? What were the hairstyles? What did the town itself look like (buildings, scenery, etc.)?
  5. Local news Was there anything noteworthy going on? Was there any breaking news that would’ve been the talk of the town?
  6. Party/reunion/event descriptions What types of activities were planned? What games did they play? What food was served? What kinds of people were invited?
  7. Entertainment sections What entertainment options were available? Was there a theater or cinema? If so, what plays or movies were out? Was the local sports team doing well? Does it seem like a lot of people attended local sports matches?
  8. Crime reports/police blotters Did the town or city seem safe? What kind of crime was happening?
  9. Holiday celebration descriptions Were there any big holiday celebrations that happened in town every year? How did individual families celebrate holidays on a smaller scale? (Descriptions of private celebrations may alert you to common local traditions.)
  10. Vacation/travel notices Are there any places people from the town commonly traveled to? If it’s a small town, which bigger city did most people visit for shopping, entertainment, etc.?
  11. Obituaries/death notices What illnesses were common in the area? Did a lot of people die of the same illness around the same time? (If so, this may indicate there was an epidemic.)
  12. Local election/political news What were the big political issues in the area? What local laws and ordinances were being passed or repealed?
  13. Letters to the editor/op-eds/editorials What were some of the opinions in town? What issues did people seem divided on and on which did most people seem to agree?
  14. Recipes & grocery store ads What ingredients and food items were available? Which foods seem common and which seem like items for special occasions? Do some ingredients seem preferred over others?
  15. Articles with addresses – Are there any mentions of the neighborhood your ancestors lived in? What about the street they lived on? (Or even their specific house?) Who else lived in the area? Do there seem to be a lot of people in the neighborhood from the same family? Or immigrants from the same country? What were the neighbors up to? What was going on in the neighborhood?

What do you think? Did we miss any newspaper sections that may be helpful? Let us know in the comments! And happy travels on your hometown newspaper tour!

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Going Beyond Birth, Marriage & Death Announcements

(Click image to view full-size version. Or click here.)

Newspapers can be a treasure trove of information about your ancestors. Unlike government records, which are often limited to forms, newspapers typically include a wide variety of different types of information about the people who live in the towns and cities they serve.

So don’t stop once you’ve found their birth, marriage, and death announcements in the newspaper. That’s just the beginning of discovering your ancestor’s story. For more ideas, check out our list of 20 sections in the newspaper to look for your ancestors in.

  1. Advertisements & classifieds
  2. Church news, events & activities
  3. Court dockets & jury lists
  4. Disaster victims lists
  5. Entertainment sections
  6. Gossip columns
  7. Land/home/farm sales
  8. Legal notices
  9. Letters to the editor
  10. Local election news & political events
  11. Military service news
  12. Local news stories
  13. Ship & train passenger lists
  14. Personal notices
  15. Police blotters
  16. School news
  17. Social news & events
  18. Sports sections
  19. Unclaimed letters lists
  20. Group photos
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Historic causes of death and modern equivalents

News, Finds, Tips of the Month

Finding the historic obituary for your ancestor on Newspapers.com is like hitting the jackpot in genealogical research. Sometimes the cause of death is something we’ve never heard of. Here’s a list of historic causes of death and their modern equivalents.

1856 Ad For Medicine To Cure Ague
Ague: Malarial Fever

Apoplexy: Unconsciousness resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke

Brain Fever: Meningitis

Bright’s Disease: Kidney failure

Childbed: Fever due to an infection after childbirth

Consumption: Tuberculosis

Canine Madness: Rabies caused by the bite of an animal

Consumption Cure? 1904
Chin Cough: Whooping cough

Diphtheria: Contagious disease of the throat

Dyspepsia: Indigestion and heartburn

Dropsy: Edema caused by kidney or heart disease

Falling Sickness: Epilepsy

Inanition: Starvation

Lockjaw: Tetanus disease that affects muscles in the neck and jaw

Milk Leg: Painful swelling after giving birth caused by thrombophlebitis in the femoral vein

Mania: Dementia

Memorial to 6000 Irish Immigrants Who Died From Ship Fever 1847-48
Mania-a-potu: A mental disorder caused by alcoholism

Quinsy: Tonsillitis

Ship Fever: Typhus

Spotted Fever: Meningitis or Typhus

Search our archives today to find the obituary for your ancestor!

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What Did Your Ancestors Wear?

When trying to find out more about an ancestor’s life, have you ever thought about what they wore? Many people already know to look in newspapers for things like birth, marriage, and death notices; but one way you can flesh out your ancestor’s day-to-day life is by discovering what they may have worn.

Advertisement for women's clothing patterns (Missouri, 1875)
Newspapers are a great resource for this, as papers have long carried ads for clothing—or for the fabric and patterns to make them. You can trace how fashions changed throughout your ancestor’s life—discovering what they might have worn as kids, as young adults, and as older adults. You can find out what these fashions would have cost your ancestors as well, and learn which clothing and accessories they could have afforded in their daily lives and which they probably would have bought only for a special occasion. You can search papers from across the nation during your ancestor’s life to get a general idea of the fashion of the time, or you can look in papers from the state or even town they were from to see if local fashion trends were any different from national ones. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Here are a few examples of the types of fashions you can find in newspapers. Who knows? Your ancestors may have worn them!

Start exploring what your ancestors wore by browsing Newspapers.com!

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Tip: Using Newspapers to Learn about Your Ancestor’s Life in the Poorhouse

Do you have ancestors who lived in a poorhouse? If so, newspapers are one of the resources you can use to discover what life may have been like for those family members.

Article about why many poorhouses are closing, 1938Alternatively called poor farms, county farms, or almshouses (depending on the region of the United States), poorhouses were typically run by counties (or sometimes towns) as a way to take care of people who were poor, old, disabled, or homeless and who had nowhere else to go. In Great Britain, such institutions were more often called workhouses. In the United States, poorhouses began to disappear after the Social Security Act was introduced in 1935, and they had almost totally disappeared by the 1950s.

It can be difficult to find records from poorhouses, so newspapers can be quite valuable in your research. Although individual “inmates” (as they were often called) of poorhouses are rarely mentioned by name in newspapers, you can typically discover quite a bit about the poorhouse they lived in from newspaper articles and piece together a picture of what your ancestor’s life in that poorhouse may have been like. (If you’re not sure if you have any ancestors who lived in a poorhouse, try reading this helpful article by Ancestry for guidance.)

If you know the name of the poorhouse where your ancestor resided, simply search Newspapers.com for the institution’s name to bring up search results. If you are unsure what the name of the poorhouse was in a certain area, use Newspapers.com to search the newspapers in the town or county (or even state) where the poorhouse was located using search terms like “poorhouse,” “county farm,” “poor farm,” or “almshouse.” You can then narrow the results by date range (such as your ancestor’s birth and death dates) if you desire.

If a broader look at poorhouses in America interests you, the St. Louis Star and Times published a series of articles on poorhouses in Missouri in 1922 and 1923 as part of a public awareness campaign to improve conditions in those institutions. Many of these articles paint a vivid picture of what some poorhouses were like at the time and can be quite eye-opening!

Get started learning more about poorhouses by searching on Newspapers.com!

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Tip: Where to Look for Your Ancestors in the Newspaper

Newspapers can be a treasure trove of information about your ancestors. Unlike government records, which are often limited to forms, newspapers can typically include a wide variety of different types of information about the people who live in the towns and cities they serve. Newspapers often go beyond the facts to tell the stories about people’s lives.

If you’re just starting out looking for an ancestor in the newspaper, a common place to begin is with birth, marriage, and death announcements. Although the amount of information provided can vary widely, details you might find in these announcements include:

  • Birth Announcements: baby’s name, birth date, gender, place of birth, parents’ names, family religion, grandparents’ names, mother’s maiden name, sibling names, photos

  • Engagement/Wedding Announcements: wedding date and place, bride’s and groom’s names, parents’ names, family religion, members of the wedding party, guest list, name of minister, where the couple plans to live, description of bride’s dress, details of ceremony/reception/shower, photos

  • Obituaries and Death Notices: death date and place, birth date and place, occupation/interests, military service, past places of residence, notable accomplishments, name and place of residence of close family, mortuary/cemetery, burial date, cause of death, photos

However, births, marriages, and deaths are just the beginning of the places in the newspaper where you might find your ancestors. The possibilities are nearly endless, but some sections in which you may want to look for your family include:

  • Advertisements (business ads, personal ads)
  • Church activities, news, and events
  • Court dockets/jury lists
  • Disaster victim lists
  • Entertainment sections (local theater and performances, school/church productions)
  • Gossip columns
  • Land/home/farm sales
  • Legal notices (divorces, probate, dissolution of business partnerships, sheriffs’ sales, delinquent tax lists, lawsuits, civil and criminal trials, foreclosures, estate settlements, bankruptcies, public sales/auctions)
  • Letters to the editor
  • Local election news/political events
  • Military service information (enlistment, draft, injury/death, letters home)
  • News stories (accidents/wrecks, disasters, crimes)
  • Passenger lists (trains, ships)
  • Personal notices
  • Police blotters
  • School news (honor roll, graduates, teachers)
  • Social news and events (parties, club meetings, out-of-town visitors, hotel guests, community events, contests, holiday celebrations, vacations, fraternal organizations, reunions, anniversaries, memorials)
  • Sports news (local teams, school sports, community leagues)
  • Unclaimed letters lists

Get started looking for your ancestor’s by searching or browsing on Newspapers.com!

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Tip: How to Search by County

Newspapers.com News, Finds and Tips

Did you know you can narrow your search by county on Newspapers.com?

Sometimes, limiting your search for your ancestors to just one paper or city may not return all the results you’re looking for, but widening your search to an entire state might return too many to easily sort through. So a county search can come in handy as a middle road between the two, since the results will come from the group of towns nearest where your ancestors lived.

County searches can also be helpful if the town where your ancestors lived didn’t have a newspaper (or if Newspapers.com doesn’t currently have the paper from a town you’re interested in), because it allows you to search papers from nearby towns—and since many papers carried news on residents of other towns within the county, you just might find your ancestor mentioned.

Searching within the papers of a specific county is easy.

  1. On the homepage, type your search terms into the search box. Then select “Add more info.”
  2. In the “Paper Location” box, start typing the name of the county you want to search within. As you type, a list of locations that match your search will automatically appear underneath. (If the county you type doesn’t appear on the list, then Newspapers.com doesn’t currently have any papers from that county.)
  3. Select the county you’re interested in from the list, add a date or date range if you want, then select “Search.”

This will return matches for your search terms that are found within papers in the county you chose.

Another way to get search results from a specific geographic region is to search via the “See papers by location” page. Read more about how to do this here.

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6 Tips for Searching Obituaries on Newspapers.com

Newspapers.com News, Finds and Tips

Newspapers.com is a valuable resource for locating your ancestors’ obituaries and death notices. Our indexed digital newspapers make the process much easier than sorting through hard copies or microfilm. Perhaps the most convenient way to find obituaries on our site is by using the “search” feature. While Newspapers.com’s “search” is straightforward and easy to use, you can make your searches even more effective by using a few of the following tricks and tips:

  1. Learn how to use Newspapers.com’s “search” feature. This tip may sound obvious, but it’s essential. Searching for obituaries will be a lot easier if you’re already familiar with how to do a general search of the papers on our site. For instance, did you know that you can narrow your results by date, state, and/or paper? If you haven’t watched our helpful “Searching Newspapers.com” video yet, do it!

  2. Add key terms to your search. Say you’re searching for the obituary of John Bair. If you search just for [“John Bair”], you’ll get many results that don’t have anything to do with a possible obituary. But if you instead search for [“John Bair” obituary], it will narrow down your results to much more likely candidates. Such key terms include “obituary”, “death”, “died”, “dead,” and “funeral.”

  3. Search using alternative names, nicknames, abbreviations, initials, and common misspellings. If a search of an ancestor’s legal name doesn’t bring up the obituary you want, try different variations of their name. Many older newspapers identified men by their first and middle initials along with their last names, while others sometimes used abbreviations (e.g., “Wm.” for William). If you’re searching in obituaries for a female ancestor, you’ll want to try also looking for her under her husband’s name (or husband’s initials)—for example, “Mrs. George E. Moring”, “Mrs. George (Grace) Moring,” or “Mrs. G. E. Moring.” And don’t forget to try a search using a woman’s maiden name.

  4. Know when to narrow your search and when to widen it. The more information you know about your ancestor, the easier it will be to narrow your results to find their obituary more quickly. For example, if you know your ancestor lived between 1870 and 1928 and spent their whole life in Kansas, you can narrow your search to those parameters of time and place to get rid of many superfluous results. However, don’t automatically discount results from a wider search just because they’re not from the city or state where your ancestor died. Obituaries may have been published in the place where they spent the majority of their life instead of the one where they died. Or obituaries may be in newspapers from the city where the deceased’s relatives lived.

  5. Save your search. If you didn’t find the obituary you want, save your search by selecting the “Save/Notify” button in the top-right corner of your search results (watch this video for more details on how to do this). By doing so, Newspapers.com will automatically notify you when any newspapers are added that fit your search criteria.

  6. Don’t be afraid to browse instead of search. Newspapers.com uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to find names and terms in the newspapers. However, while OCR can locate many instances of the words you’re searching for, it isn’t 100 percent accurate, especially for newspapers that are in poor condition. So if a search doesn’t turn up an obituary you’re looking for, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not on Newspapers.com. It just may mean that you’ll have to look for the obituary the old-fashioned way, going through likely newspapers page by page until you find what you’re looking for.

Ready to begin searching for those obituaries? Get started on our Search page.

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Tip: How to Save to Ancestry.com

News, Finds, Tips of the Month

If you have both a Newspapers.com account and an Ancestry account, you can easily save something you’ve found on Newspapers.com to your Ancestry Family Tree.

  1. Once you’ve found newspaper content you want to save to your Ancestry Family Tree, make a clipping of it, and then in the popup box that appears, select the green button with the Ancestry logo. (You can alternatively select the green “Save to Ancestry” button at the top of the viewer, which will allow you to select the portion of the page you want to clip and save to Ancestry.)
  2. After you selected the “Save to Ancestry” option, a popup box will appear that will allow you to sign in to your Ancestry account. Once you’re signed in, select the tree and then person that you want to associate the clipping with, and select “Next.”
  3. In the next box, you can add or edit information about the clipping, including the title, date, location, and comments. If you want the clipping to appear on the person’s LifeStory page on Ancestry, simply make sure the “Show on LifeStory” box is checked. If you don’t want it to appear on their LifeStory, uncheck the box. Then select “Save.”

And that’s it! The clipping will now be saved to Ancestry and will appear on your ancestor’s LifeStory. You can also access it on the person’s Facts or Gallery pages.

If you have a clipping you’ve created in the past that you want to now save to Ancestry, all you need to do is go to the clipping (accessible from the My Clippings page), and select the green “Save to Ancestry” button at the top. Then follow the same instructions as above.

Find more helpful tips at the Newspapers.com Help Center!

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