Destruction of the 1890 Census

1890 United States Federal Census Fragment sample image.

Genealogists and historians have lamented the loss of the 1890 census for more than a century. When researchers inquire about the 1890 census, their questions are quickly dismissed with the explanation that a fire destroyed the records. The truth, however, is more complicated. The 1890 census records did sustain extensive smoke and water damage in two different fires (1896 and 1921), but the damaged records sat languishing in a warehouse until the 1930s when Congress ordered their destruction.

The 1890 census was unique for several reasons. For the first time, officials decided to gather data on a separate schedule for each family. Families answered questions about race, immigration and naturalization, the number of children born and living, and questions relating to service in the Civil War. It was also the first census that used punch cards and an electrical tabulation system.

After enumerators finished the 1890 census, the Department of the Interior stored portions in Washington D.C. in the basement of Marini’s Hall. On March 22, 1896, a night watchman discovered the rear of the building was on fire and notified the fire department. Firefighters arrived to find dense smoke pouring from the basement. Though they extinguished the flames before sunrise, the fire damaged or destroyed the special schedules for mortality, crime, pauperism, benevolence, special classes (e.g., deaf, blind, insane) and portions of the transportation and insurance schedules. The general population schedules, however, were safe and stored in the basement of the Commerce Building.

The Washington Post, January 11, 1921

On the evening of January 10, 1921, an employee at the Commerce Building noticed smoke rising through the elevator shaft and sounded the fire alarm. For hours, firefighters soaked the building with water to quench the flames. When the smoke cleared, archivists found 25 percent of the 1890 census schedules destroyed, while half of the rest sustained serious water damage. Government officials debated whether the burnt and waterlogged records could be salvaged.

This tragic fire spurred discussion about the need for national archives to hold public records. While awaiting funding for an archive building, Census Director William Steuart warned the damaged records would continue to deteriorate. Not much is known about what happened to the census records between 1922-1932, but in December 1932, the Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Census sent the Librarian of Congress a list of documents deemed no longer necessary and scheduled for destruction. Included in the list were the 1890 damaged census records. The Librarian approved the list and forwarded it to Congress who authorized it and the damaged records were destroyed. Ironically, just one day before Congress authorized the destruction of these records, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone for the new National Archives Building.

In 1934, the National Archives Building opened in Washington, D.C. In 1942, officials found a damaged bundle of 1890 census records from Illinois that escaped destruction. In 1953, they also found fragments of records from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and the District of Columbia. These rediscovered records comprise just a tiny fraction of the 1890 census, leaving 99.99 percent of the original records lost forever. Visit Ancestry.com to see the surviving 1890 census fragments, or search Newspapers.com to see more clippings about their destruction.

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8 Steps for Telling Your Ancestor’s Life Story with Newspapers

Do you know your ancestors’ names but not their stories? Historical newspapers are an important resource for discovering who your ancestors were beyond names and dates. But if you’re not sure where to start, read on to learn how to use Newspapers.com to piece together your ancestors’ life stories.

1. Build a basic timeline with the facts you already know.

Before you start searching for your ancestor’s story in newspapers, it helps to have at least a rough knowledge of when and where they lived. These basics will serve as the backbone for the story that you build and help guide you in your newspaper search.

Image from the 1880 census on Ancestry®
Image from the 1880 census on Ancestry®

One way to do this is by locating your ancestor in as many state and federal censuses as you can. Write down the year of the census and the city/county/state where the person was living. It may also be helpful to note their occupation (if provided) and who else was living in the household at the time. These facts can help you identify your ancestor when you begin your newspaper search. You can also use dates and locations pulled from other records, such as those for birth, marriage, and death.

2. Begin your newspaper search.

Enter your ancestor’s name into the Newspapers.com search bar. Scroll through some of the results to see if there are any likely hits for your ancestor. If there are too many results for people who aren’t your ancestor, try adding date, location, and other filters to narrow down the possibilities.

Remember, however, that people didn’t always appear in newspapers by their legal name. Try searching for your ancestor using nicknames, alternative names, initials, and misspellings. In older newspapers, men were often referred to by initials or abbreviations, and women were often referred to by their husbands’ names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith).

And here’s a tip: When you find a search that returns results for your ancestor, use the Save/Notify feature to be automatically alerted when we add new newspaper pages that have matches for your search.

3. Sort your search results chronologically.

Image showing how to sort results chronologically
Image showing how to sort results chronologically

It’s often easiest to understand how the events of a person’s life tie together when you learn about them in the order they happened—just like reading a biography. So once you’ve found search results for your ancestor, sort the results chronologically. This will help you see more easily how the newspaper articles you find fit with the timeline you made in Step 1.

The default for search results on Newspapers.com is “Best match,” but you can easily order them chronologically by choosing to sort them by “Paper date (oldest first),” which is found under “Sort” in the upper left of the search results page.

4. Start reading!

You’ve got your search results, so now it’s time to start reading! Using the image thumbnails on the search results page as a reference, open up articles that seem like they might be about your ancestor. The timeline you made before you started searching will help you determine which articles are about your ancestor and which are not. As you find articles about your ancestor, you’ll become more familiar with their life, making it easier to spot which other articles are about them too.

5. Clip the articles you find.

When you find articles about your ancestor, use our clipping tool to save them to your Newspapers.com account.

It’s important not only to clip the article but also to title the clipping in a way that will make it easy to find again. For example, the clipping’s title could include your ancestor’s name and a brief summary of the article. Then when you need to find that article again, you can simply go to your clippings page and search for the person’s name to quickly pull up all the articles you’ve clipped about them.

Example of helpful information to include in a clipping
Example of helpful information to include in a clipping

When making a clipping, you can also use the “Add more details” field to make notes about the clipping. For example, you could use this field to indicate details in the clipping you want to research further or to specify how the clipping ties into a larger story.

Another great feature of clippings is that you can easily share them on social media or via email. So if you find an article about your ancestor, you can post it to social media and ask your family members if they know anything else about the story. You can also save clippings to your Ancestry® tree.

6. Take notes along the way.

As you start reading newspaper articles about your ancestor, they’ll likely spark ideas about other people or topics to research. Make sure to take plenty of notes about these so you can come back and search them later. It’ll be tempting to research them right away, but that can lead you down a rabbit hole that takes you far away from the person you were originally researching. So instead make a note to return to it in the future.

It’s also a good idea to take notes about ways you could adjust your search terms. For instance, if you find an article that uses an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name, make a note to come back later and search using that alternate spelling. 

7. Branch out.

Once you learn everything you can about your ancestor’s life by searching for their name, try searching for their family member’s names. People don’t exist in isolation, so learning about the stories of their family members can help you understand your ancestor. For example, your ancestor might not be mentioned by name in an article about a tragic death in the family, but it nevertheless likely had a direct impact on their life.

News from an ancestor's childhood about his father and uncle (Chicago Tribune, 11.09.1865)
News from an ancestor’s childhood about his father and uncle (Chicago Tribune, 11.09.1865)

Searching by family members names (particularly parents’ names) is especially key to learning about your ancestor’s early life, since adults are more likely than children to be mentioned by name in a newspaper. By doing this, you might find out that their family moved when your ancestor was young or that their father was injured in an accident—events that would have shaped your ancestor’s childhood.

8. Explore the social history of your ancestor’s life.

Learning about the time and place in which your ancestors lived can also help you understand their life. Take time to look through their local newspaper to find out what life was like in the town or city they lived in. Try browsing through national and local news stories, ads, articles about the economy, the entertainment and leisure sections, war news, transportation schedules, and more to learn about the context of your ancestor’s life.

Social history research is also helpful if you weren’t able to find much about your ancestor when you searched for them by name. Researching the world around them can give you a pretty decent idea of what their life may have been like.

Happy searching!

We hope this has been useful in helping you uncover your ancestor’s life story. If you have any tips we missed, be sure to post them in the comments!

Get started finding your ancestors’ stories by searching Newspapers.com! And follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more articles like this!

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7 Tips for Finding an Ancestor Beyond Their Hometown Newspaper

At Newspapers.com, we’re constantly adding newspapers to our archives to grow our coverage of locations around the United States, Canada, and beyond. In fact, we add millions of newspaper pages each month!

But growing our archives inevitably takes time. So what can you do if Newspapers.com doesn’t have a newspaper from your ancestor’s hometown yet? Or if Newspapers.com does have the paper, but not the years you need? Or what if your ancestor’s hometown didn’t even have a local newspaper in the first place?

Can you still use the papers on our site to learn about your ancestor? Yes! While hometown papers are the most likely place to find news about your ancestor, they’re far from the only place.

Read on to learn 7 of our top tips for doing family history research beyond your ancestor’s hometown newspaper.

Family reunion photo from 1919 Indiana (Muncie Morning Star, 09.27.1919)
Family reunion photo from 1919 Indiana (Muncie Morning Star, 09.27.1919)

1. Search your ancestor’s name in ALL the papers on the site.

This tip is only practical if your ancestor had a fairly uncommon name, but it’s worth mentioning up front. You never know exactly when or where your ancestor’s name might appear in a newspaper—and they can turn up in some pretty surprising places! Yes, your ancestor may have lived their entire life in a particular place, but a reprinted or syndicated story about them may pop up in newspapers in states they had no connection to at all!

But if your ancestor’s name isn’t particularly unique, you’ll need some ways to focus your search to avoid getting too many matches. That’s where our other tips come in!

2. Search for your ancestor in the newspapers of nearby towns and the county seat.

Apart from hometown papers, newspapers from the county seat or neighboring towns (even those across a state border!) are some of the most likely places you’ll find mentions of your ancestor.

Two ways Newspapers.com helps you with this are the County search and Map search functions. County search allows you to search all the papers in a county. Just start typing the county name into the “Paper Location” field of the Advanced Search options, and then select the county name. (If the county you type doesn’t appear on the list, then Newspapers.com doesn’t currently have papers from that county.)

The Map search (accessible by selecting “See papers by location” on the homepage) allows you to zoom in on our map to see (and then search!) the papers on our site from as big or small a geographical region as you want.

For example, you can zoom in on the map to see all the papers currently available from the entire state of Kansas, or you can zoom in even further to see all the papers available specifically from Cherokee County. This is especially helpful if your ancestor lived near a state border, since you can see which papers were being published in neighboring towns across the state line. So if your ancestor lived in Cherokee County, Kansas, the Newspapers Map will show you that we also have papers from nearby Jasper County, Missouri.

Example of the Newspapers.com Map zoomed in to show papers available in Cherokee County, KS, and Jasper County, MO
Example of the Newspapers.com Map zoomed in to show papers available in Cherokee County, KS, and Jasper County, MO

3. Search for your ancestor in every city they lived in or were associated with.

Outside your ancestor’s hometown, the towns where they were born or died are good places to check for newspaper mentions of them. But there are many more places you can search!

First, use vital and other genealogical records, family stories, newspaper clues, or whatever resources you have to compile a list of every place your ancestor lived or was associated with. Then search for them in papers from those locations.

This could be the city where they attended college, where they worked, where they were stationed in the military, where they landed after immigrating, or even where they traveled on an extended vacation. The possibilities are endless! Anywhere your ancestor spent time may have some sort of newspaper record of their time there, even if it’s simply a mention of them in a list of hotel guests or passengers who came in on the train.

4. Search for your ancestor in the areas where their family members lived.

Once you’ve tried searching for your ancestor in the places they were associated with, move on to their family members. Start with parents, children, and siblings, and work your way out to in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles, and other extended family. This will likely require you to do some digging into collateral (non-direct) lines on your family tree, but it may be worth the time.

Pennsylvania newspaper photo of the Klinefelter Family, 1909. (Gazette-Times, 02.07.1909)
Pennsylvania newspaper photo of the Klinefelter Family, 1909. Note that the caption mentions the Thompsons are living in Nebraska! (Gazette-Times, 02.07.1909)

Family members’ obituaries can be a particularly rich source of information about your ancestor, but the possibilities don’t stop there. For instance, newspapers often published news about people who were visiting family members in town, whether it was for a vacation, wedding, funeral, or reunion. They also published updates on people who had moved away but still had family in town.

Keep in mind that newspapers didn’t always mention visitors by name, sometimes merely saying that so-and-so’s brother was in town for the week. But if you’re paying attention, you might catch that the nameless brother mentioned in the article is actually the ancestor you’ve been looking for!

You may be surprised how much information about your ancestor can appear in the newspapers where their family members lived. For example, one birth announcement for a baby born in Colorado was actually published in Pennsylvania, where the mother’s family lived. Even more surprising, the announcement wasn’t in the family’s hometown paper but in the paper from the county seat!

5. Search for your ancestor in newspapers of ethnic or religious communities they belonged to.

Example of a Catholic-focused newspaper serving Kansas and Oklahoma (Catholic Advance, 01.24.1914)
Example of a Catholic-focused newspaper serving Kansas and Oklahoma (Catholic Advance, 01.24.1914)

If your ancestor belonged to a particular ethnic or religious community, try looking for them in newspapers that catered to that community. These might include Jewish or Catholic newspapers, African American papers, or German-language papers. Newspapers that targeted a specific religious or ethnic community often shared news about people within that demographic even if they lived in a different state than where the paper was published. 

For instance, if your ancestor was African American, you may have luck searching for them in historically black papers, such as the Pittsburgh Courier or Kansas City Sun. These papers published news about African Americans from all over the United States, not just Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

6. Search for your ancestor in the years after their lifetime.

If the problem is that Newspapers.com has the hometown paper, just not the years you need, try searching for your ancestor in the years after their lifetime. They might be mentioned in their child’s obituary or in a piece spotlighting the pioneers of the town. Or they might crop up in a “this-day-in-history” feature in the newspaper or in an article about events of historical significance to the town. This Indiana town history piece  from 1939, for example, mentions people and events from more than a century earlier!

1939 newspaper piece that discusses century-old town history (Palladium-Item, 07.16.1939)
1939 newspaper piece that discusses century-old town history (Palladium-Item, 07.16.1939)

7. Check back!   

Since Newspapers.com frequently adds and updates papers, check back often to see if the hometown paper you want has been added to the site. A quick way to do this is on our New & Updated page.

There are also a couple ways to be automatically informed by email when certain newspaper content is added to the site. The first way is to save a search. This will notify you when we add a newspaper page that has results that match criteria you specify. To enable this feature, simply set up a search with the criteria you want (for example, “John Smith” in Kansas newspapers), then select the “Save/Notify” button on the search results page.

You can also choose to be automatically notified by email when we add pages to a specific newspaper title. This is a convenient option if you’re waiting for additional years to be added to a paper already on our site. Do it by selecting any newspaper title and clicking the “follow” button on the landing page.

Best of luck finding that ancestor!

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5 Tips for Finding an Ancestor with a Common Name in the Newspaper

What do you do when you want to look for your ancestor in the newspaper, but your ancestor has a common name? How do you know if the John Smith you found mentioned in a newspaper article is your John Smith?

This can be a frustrating roadblock to navigate, so to help you in your search, we’ve come up with 5 tips for finding a person with a common name in the papers on Newspapers.com.

1. Use our search filters.

We’ll start with the most obvious tip first: Use the Newspapers.com search filters to narrow down your matches. (Watch this video to learn how to use our filters.)

If you go to our search bar and type John Smith, you’ll get more than 100 million results, which is far too many to go through one by one. So try adding filters in addition to your search terms. For example, if you know John Smith lived in Kansas between 1909 and 1930, add filters for that location and date range. This simple method will help get the number of search results down to a more manageable number.

Search filters on Newspapers.com
Search filters on Newspapers.com

Keep in mind, however, that any time you add filters to a search, you are excluding potential matches. While a newspaper article about your ancestor is most likely to appear in a newspaper from the town he lived in during the time he lived there, if he traveled to a different city to visit a relative, he may also appear in that town’s newspaper. Or he might be mentioned in a newspaper long after his death in an article about one of his descendants.

2. Learn everything you can about your ancestor.

If your ancestor has a common name, the thing that will help you distinguish them in the newspaper is obviously not going to be their name—it’ll be other things about them. So the more you know about your ancestor, the more likely you will be to recognize them when you come across them in a newspaper. Traditional records, such as censuses, vital records, wills, and land records, are a good place to find personal information about your ancestor that you can use in your newspaper search.

Example of a WW2 draft card, which can provide useful information in learning about an individual (via Fold3)
Example of a WW2 draft card, which can provide useful information in learning about an individual (via Fold3)

Details that may help you distinguish your ancestor include when and where they lived (even down to their address, if possible), as well as their spouse’s, parents’, and children’s names. Every detail can help—even their profession, physical description, and the clubs and church they belonged to.

So if your ancestor John Smith lived in a town with another John Smith, you may be able to tell them apart by the details provided in a newspaper article. For instance, if you know your John Smith was a doctor, then an article in the town paper mentioning a “Dr. John Smith” is more likely to be about your ancestor than an article talking about a lawyer named John Smith. Similarly, if you know he was 30 years old in 1912, then you’ll also know that an article from 1912 about a John Smith’s 50th wedding anniversary isn’t going to be about your ancestor.

3. Learn who their family, friends, and neighbors were.

Your ancestor may have had a common name, but there were likely people in their circle who had more distinguishable names. So try searching for your ancestor in conjunction with family, friends, and neighbors who had less common names.

For example, our commonly named John Smith may have married a woman with a more uncommon surname, like Chuba. So if you search for him in conjunction with his in-laws’ surname, you may turn up mentions of him in the newspaper. Similarly, maybe his father or brother had a less common first name than “John,” so if you find their names and his mentioned together in an article, this is a good sign you’ve found whom you’re looking for.

A Smith family photo (Nebraska State Journal, 12.25.1915)
A Smith family photo from a newspaper (Nebraska State Journal, 12.25.1915)

And don’t stop at family members. If you know the name of a family friend or neighbor (things like censuses and city directories can alert you to who lived nearby), you can search for that person in the newspaper and see if your ancestor pops up in conjunction with them. For example, if your John Smith lived next door to a Thomas Bieber for many years, and you find a John Smith mentioned in a newspaper social column about the Bieber’s Christmas party, there’s a good probability that it’s your John Smith.

4. Try searching without a name.

If the person’s name is the problem, try searching without one—or with only part of it. To search without a name, gather all the information possible about the person, like we mentioned in previous tips, and then search using these criteria.

So instead of searching for the name “John Smith,” search for things you know about him. If you know Dr. John Smith lived in Topeka, Kansas, between 1909 and 1930 and was married to a woman with the maiden name Chuba, you could try searching for doctors living in Topeka during that time period who were mentioned in the newspaper in conjunction with the Chuba family.

Example of a Newspapers.com search that doesn't use the individual's full name
Example of a Newspapers.com search that doesn’t use the individual’s full name

This method requires a lot of experimenting with different keywords and testing out different searches, but you never know what you may turn up this way!

5. Pay attention to newspaper patterns.

If you’re confused about which John Smith is which in a town’s newspaper, it would’ve been confusing for people in your ancestor’s day too. So newspapers had to find a method to distinguish people with the same name in their articles. One way they sometimes did this was by including an address in conjunction with a name. But they also differentiated people by styling their names differently.

Newspapers often stuck to naming patterns when mentioning residents so that their readers could know who was being written about. John Smith may have been written about in the newspaper as “John Smith,” “Jno. Smith,” “John A. Smith,” “J. A. Smith,” “Johnny Smith,” “Jack Smith,” “Dr. Smith,” or some other variation. So your ancestor might not be “John Smith” in the newspaper at all—he might be “J. A. Smith,” while the other John Smith in town was written about as “John Smith.”

Of course, newspapers didn’t always stick strictly to naming patterns, but when you are able to find a pattern, it can be a major help in identifying your ancestor. So if you are able find your ancestor mentioned in the newspaper at least once, pay attention to how the paper styled their name!

Good luck!

List of some of the John Smiths in and around Kansas City circa 1888 (via the Kansas City Daily Gazette, 08.11.1888)
List of some of the John Smiths in and around Kansas City circa 1888 (via the Kansas City Daily Gazette, 08.11.1888)

Unfortunately, having an ancestor with a common name often means you have to spend a lot more time combing search results to find them in the newspaper. Sometimes, the best you can do is narrow your search results down to a manageable number, and then go through each result, ruling them out one by one. You may even have to do quite a bit of research into someone who isn’t your ancestor, just so you know for sure that they aren’t the person you’re looking for.

But the time and effort you spend will be well worth it when you do finally find a newspaper mention of your ancestor!

Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips for finding ancestors with common names!

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How Do I Find an Obituary on Newspapers.com?

Obituaries are an invaluable genealogical resource, so they are often the first thing a family historian looks for in a newspaper. But finding an ancestor’s obituary can sometimes be tricky. So we’ve created an in-depth guide to help you find obituaries in the historical newspapers in our archives.

Why are obituaries important?

First, let’s talk about why you’d want to look for an ancestor’s obituary in the first place.

Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]
Example of an obituary with a photo included [Florence Bulletin, 02.25.1915]

Obituaries can tell you information that may be hard to find through other sources, though the types of information published in obituaries can vary widely. Many have basic information like the person’s name (sometimes including maiden name for married women), age, birth date and place, and death date and place. But others may also include nicknames, cause of death, spouse’s name, children’s names, names of extended family members, employment history, education, volunteer activities, religion, military service, personality, photos, and more! All this information can be especially important if your ancestor lived in a time before statewide vital recordkeeping.

Obituaries also provide clues to other types of records you should look for. For instance, if the person’s obituary mentions military service, you can begin looking for enlistment records or pension files. And if the obituary indicates the person died in a different county than where they lived (perhaps because they were at a hospital or staying with family), this information could point you to the location of their death certificate.

Of course, it is important to keep in mind that the information in obituaries may not always be accurate. The newspaper may have gotten information wrong or misspelled names, or the surviving family members may have misremembered facts. This means it is always important to find corroborating records when possible; but still, obituaries are a great jumping off point.

Will there be an obituary for my ancestor?

Before you start looking for an obituary, it’s important to understand some historical context that may affect whether you will be able to find an obituary for your ancestor.

First of all, although obituaries have been published in newspapers since the 1600s, they only became common beginning in the early to mid-1800s. So your earlier ancestors likely would not have had an obituary published in newspapers.

Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]
Example of a death notice for a man who died away from his hometown [Bridgeport Telegram, 01.24.1918]

In addition, not every person had an obituary written about them. The better-known and more prominent a person was in a community, the more likely they were to get an obituary. Plus, a well-known person would be more likely to have a longer, more-detailed piece written about them after death, while the average resident may only get a few lines.

On top of all that, small-towns papers were more likely than large-city papers to publish obituaries about their residents. Populations of big cities were too large for papers to write full obituaries for every resident. Small-town papers, on the other hand, had space to write about more of the residents.

What information do I need before I start looking for an obituary?

Since the papers on Newspapers.com are all fully searchable, you need less information to find a person’s obituary than in the past, when you had to look through physical papers or microfilm. If you are willing to spend time combing through search results, all you really need is the person’s name.

However, to make your search easier and faster, the best information to know in addition to the person’s name is their date and place of death. But other information is helpful as well, such as other locations where the person lived, any nicknames or aliases they had, and names of their spouse and close family members.

How do I start?

If you’re searching for your ancestor on Newspapers.com, one of the best first steps is to make sure you understand how to use our search, including the search filters. If you want to learn more about best practices for searching on our site, watch this tutorial video.

The next step is to search for your ancestor’s name. It will probably be the rare case when you type in your ancestor’s name and the first search result is their obituary. So there are two ways to approach finding the obituary: start with a broad search and then narrow your results, or start with a narrow search and broaden your results.

Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person's death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]
Example of an obituary reprinted years after the person’s death [The Messenger and Intelligencer, 09.09.1909]

If you want to start broad (recommended if your ancestor had a relatively unique or uncommon name), enter your ancestor’s name into our search bar. Scroll through some of the search results to see if there are any likely hits for your ancestor. If there aren’t, try adding the year of your ancestor’s death. Again, skim the results to see if there are any hits. If there still aren’t, try adding the state where your ancestor died. Continue adding time, location, and other filters until you either find what you’re looking for or exhaust the possibilities. 

If your ancestor had a fairly common name, starting narrow and going broad is likely a better approach. From the search bar, type in your ancestor’s name, add the year of death, and the location where they died. Then, if a match doesn’t show up in your search results, gradually broaden or remove the filters to reveal more possible matches.

Keep in mind that while filters can be extremely helpful in narrowing down your search results to a manageable amount, any time you use a filter, you are excluding possible matches. Here are a few important things to remember about using filters:

  1. While an obituary may have appeared in the newspaper as early as the day of the person’s death, many obituaries may not appear for a few days or even weeks. So don’t narrow your date filters too far.
  2. Searching papers in the location where your ancestor died is a good initial strategy, but remember that their obituary may have instead appeared in the location where they spent the majority of their life, or where they had living family members.
  3. Even if you think you know which newspaper the obituary is in, it’s often worth a shot to search other newspapers in the area. And if the town is near the state line, try searching nearby newspapers in the neighboring state. You can use our Newspapers Map to see which papers are available for any geographical area.

If your search returns too many results to sort through even with filters, you can try using additional search terms such as “obituary,” “death,” “died,” “dead,” “funeral,” “memorial,” “in remembrance,” etc.

I can’t find the obituary. Any more tips?

If the tips above don’t lead you to the obituary, there are some more advanced strategies you can try.

One is to try searching for your ancestor using nicknames, alternative names, initials, and misspellings. In older newspapers, men were often referred to by initials or abbreviations, and women were often referred to by their husbands’ names (e.g., Mrs. John Smith). If you’ve found other newspaper mentions of the ancestor you are trying to find an obituary for, look at how the newspaper styled the name, and then try a search using that same spelling. Noticing patterns like this can be a big help.

Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband's name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]
Example of an obituary where the woman is referred to by her husband’s name [The Scranton Truth, 05.21.1906]

Another strategy is to search using the names of a relative or two who would likely appear in the person’s obituary, such as a spouse or child. The Newspapers.com search uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to find matches. This means that a computer has tried to identify the words on each page and produce a digital version to search. But OCR, as accurate as it is, isn’t perfect, especially if the text on the page is less clear for some reason. So if you search for an obituary using the name of a close family member, it may turn up matches that the OCR wasn’t able to identify the first time.

You can also try an advanced keyword search using wildcards and Booleans. Wildcards are especially helpful if your ancestor has a name that is commonly misspelled. And Booleans are helpful if you want to really focus your search. Refer to this blog post for more help on how to use wildcards and Booleans.

If you can’t find an obituary, you can also try searching for other types of newspaper content related to your ancestor’s death. For example, some families would print a “card of thanks” in the newspaper after the funeral to thank the community for their condolences. You can also look for legal notices such as those about the person’s estate and probate. And if the person died in an accident, murder, or other unexpected manner, there may be a newspaper article about the death rather than an obituary.

What do I do if I STILL can’t find the obituary?

It may be the case that the newspaper with your ancestor’s obituary hasn’t been added to our archives yet. This is where our Save/Notify feature comes in handy. Located to the right of the search bar on your search results page, this feature allows you to save your searches so you can repeat them more easily in the future. And, even better, we will email you to let you know when new papers are added to our site that contain matches for your saved searches. You can learn more about this feature in our help center or in this blog post.

Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]
Man reads his own obituary in 1919! [The Oregon Daily Journal, 11.13.1919]

As mentioned earlier, OCR isn’t always perfect. So if you are certain there should be an obituary for your ancestor, but a keyword search on Newspapers.com isn’t bringing it up, try looking the old-fashioned way—by reading newspapers page by page.

Start by browsing in the newspaper located closest to where your ancestor died, beginning with the issue the day after their death. Then gradually expand the time period and location you are looking at. You’ll soon notice patterns that will help you look through the newspaper more quickly—such as that a newspaper published its obituaries on the same page of each issue, or that it published them on the same day each week. This method is obviously time consuming, but it may be worth it if you really want that obituary!

Happy Searching!

We hope this has been useful in helping you find your ancestor’s obituary. If you have any tips we missed that you think might help others, be sure to post them in the comments!

And get started finding your ancestors’ obituaries by searching Newspapers.com!

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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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