Have you found a marriage announcement on Newspapers.com that led to a genealogy breakthrough? For some of us (like me), uncovering long sought after information is like opening a gift on Christmas morning! Marriage announcements can be short and succinct or long and rich in detail. As a genealogist, I’ve spent hours poring through marriage records on Newspapers.com. I have some tips that might help you read between the lines of your marriage announcements and might help you make new personal discoveries within your family tree.
The Bride’s Maiden Name: A marriage announcement is often a great way to uncover the holy grail of genealogy for women – her birth name! A birth name can open the door to further research for the bride and her family. Here’s a marriage announcement from London revealing the bride’s birth name that dates back to 1701!
Parents’ Names: Marriage announcements often include the name of the parents for both the bride and groom. Now you can go back one more generation in your research!
Photographs: The first photos started appearing in newspapers in the late 1800s, and by the 1900s, many papers included a picture of the bride. What a treasure to find a photo of your ancestor!
Address: It’s hard to imagine now, but it used to be common to give an address for the bride and/or groom, like in this announcement from 1875. An address allows you to search land records, census records, and nearby relatives – remember families often stuck together back then. (Pro tip: enter the address in Google Earth to see if the house still stands. If it does, you can explore the neighborhood virtually)!
The Wedding Party: I love a wedding announcement full of lots of juicy details like this one. I mean, who doesn’t want to know how many yards of silk it took to make the wedding gown? A detailed wedding announcement often mentions everyone in the bridal party, and sometimes even guests. Chances are, many of those named are relatives. I’ve gone so far as to build a tree for everyone mentioned, and each time, I have discovered new cousins and siblings. It takes effort, but if you’re up against a brick wall, it just might lead to a breakthrough. Pay special attention to those who have traveled from out-of-town to attend the wedding. They are probably family!
Who Performed the Wedding? Marriage announcements usually give the name of who officiated at the wedding. You aren’t likely to find church records in the newspapers, but if you have the name of the person who performed the wedding, you can research the congregation, and that can lead to church records. Church records often list the name of the bride and groom’s parents and sometimes the mother’s birth name. This can unlock new research possibilities.
Then and Now, Weddings Can be Full of Drama: While searching for family wedding announcements one day, I came across this dramatic clipping! It shares the story of a young immigrant who left Greece for an arranged marriage in America. The groom ended up rejecting her, and she sued him for $5,000 for breach of contract. The article is full of genealogical information for the family – both in Greece and in the United States. This article is more of an announcement for the wedding that didn’t happen!
One Final Tip: While searching for wedding announcements, we sometimes tend to search in a limited range of dates. You might be missing out on so much more. For example, I’ve come across dozens of clippings like this that describe women’s groups getting together to model old wedding dresses. These women modeled their mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s dresses. In many cases, they give the names of the original bride and the year she was married. Who would have thought to search for a wedding more than a hundred years after it happened? What a treasure trove of information!
Ready to dive in and find your ancestors’ marriage announcements? Start searching Newspapers.com today!
Have you ever searched for an ancestor’s name on Newspapers.com but gotten no matches, even though you just know they must be in there somewhere? Sometimes the problem may be that you’re searching for a name or spelling that’s different from how it appeared in the newspaper—preventing our search from returning the matches you’re looking for.
So we’ve put together some strategies for uncovering name and spelling variations that you can try in your searches!
A Bit of Background
You may know how your ancestor’s name was spelled in legal documents, the census, or letters they sent, but that spelling might not be what was used in the newspaper. Why?
Sometimes it might be a spelling mistake by the journalist or typesetter. (Think how many times your own name has been misspelled by others!) Sometimes the name’s spelling was provided by a family member who didn’t how their relative actually spelled their name. Illiteracy and low-literacy rates used to be higher, so it’s possible your ancestor wasn’t sure of the exact spelling of their name. Other times, the person might have gone by a nickname or “Americanized” name, rather than their birth name.
All these reasons (and more!) mean that it’s worth trying some variations if the “correct” spelling of your ancestor’s name isn’t returning search matches!
We’ll start with some name variations to try searching for:
Nicknames. Did you ancestor have a name that often has a nickname associated with it? Your ancestor Margaret may be in the newspaper as “Maggie.” And don’t forget that some nicknames that are no longer common may have been popular during your ancestor’s lifetime—for example, “Sally” as a nickname for Sarah. And if your ancestor was born outside the United States or came from an ethnic community within the U.S., remember to check for nicknames common to that culture as well, such as “Paco” for Francisco. Did your ancestor have a nickname that was specific to them? Search for that too. “Babe Ruth” shows up in the newspaper by his famous nickname much more than by George Herman Ruth Jr. Consider nicknames related to vocations as well. Your doctor ancestor Henry Taylor could be in the newspaper as “Doc Taylor.”
Middle names. Did your ancestor go by their middle name? This was (and still is) a common practice if there was a parent, grandparent, or other family member with the same given name. And don’t forget that if they did use their middle name, they may be using a nickname for that middle name on top of that. Mary Avaline Conner, for example, is found in the newspapers as “Avie Conner”—a nickname for her middle name!
English versions of names from other languages. Some people with names that weren’t common in mainstream American culture went by an anglicized version of their name. If your ancestor’s name was Giuseppe, try searching in the newspaper for “Joseph” or “Joe.” Similarly, it may also be worth a shot to search for direct translations of a non-English name. Your ancestor’s surname may have been Schmidt in Germany but been translated as the English equivalent “Smith” when they came to the U.S.
“Americanized” versions of diverse naming structures. If your ancestor came from a country, territory, or ethnic community that uses a different naming structure, this might affect what name appeared in a newspaper. For example, Maria Lopez de Vega may appear in an American newspaper as “Maria Lopez” or “Maria Vega.”
Other times, you may have the right name for your ancestor, it’s just not spelled in the newspaper the way you think. Here are some examples of spelling variations to consider.
Common alternative spellings. Names can be spelled in a variety of different ways, so be sure to check for common alternative spellings. Check for your ancestor Katherine under “Catherine,” “Kathryn,” or any of the other spellings.
Common misspellings. Your ancestor’s name, especially if it’s unusual, may have simply been misspelled in the newspaper. While it’s impossible to guess all the ways it might have been misspelled, there are some common spelling mistakes you can look for. Check for double letters added or deleted, substitution of vowels (or consonants) that sound similar, silent letters left out, etc. Try saying the name out loud and searching all possible phonetic spellings for the way it sounds—keeping in mind that the way your family pronounces the name now might not be how your ancestor (or the journalist!) pronounced it.
Mistakes when spelling verbally. Even if your ancestor verbally spelled out their name for the newspaper, some letters sound similar when said aloud: B and P sound similar enough that your ancestor spelling out “P-O-U-N-D” might have been misheard as saying “B-O-U-N-D.”
Dropped prefixes. Name prefixes like “O,” “Mc,” “Mac,” and a host of others may have been dropped, either intentionally by your ancestor or unintentionally by the person writing the article. If your ancestor’s surname was O’Reilly, try searching just for “Reilly” (and vice versa—if their surname was Reilly, check for “O’Reilly” as well).
Transliteration from a non-English alphabet. If your ancestor’s name was transliterated from a non-English alphabet such as Cyrillic, Arabic, or Chinese, there will be a vast number of possibilities for the way it was spelled in English—both by your ancestor and by a journalist or editor who may not have had a familiarity with the language. Some alphabets have standardized guidelines for transliteration into the English alphabet, but it’s worth trying out as many phonetic spellings for the name as you can think of.
Abbreviations & initials. Newspapers sometimes shortened names to save space. Try searching “Wm” for William, “Chas” for Charles, and so on. You should also try searching for them by their initials: search “J.D. Smith” for John Doe Smith, for example.
Typos & Other Errors
Sometimes, you can’t find the name due to typos or OCR error. Here are a couple to consider in your searches. (Note: OCR is the technology Newspapers.com uses to “read” a newspaper page to identify matches.)
Typesetting and typing mistakes. Try a search that takes into account possible typesetting errors, like transposing the first letters of a name. Search for an ancestor with the surname Wright under “Rwright,” for instance. Similarly, if your ancestor came from a time of typewriters or even computers, try searching for their name with common typos, like mistyping an adjacent letter on a keyboard (e.g., “Fryer” for someone whose name is Dryer).
Letters with similar shapes. Depending on the typeface used in the newspaper and the quality of the page image, OCR might misread letters in a name. Take this into consideration and try searching for a name using letters that have a similar shape: a lowercase “y” for a “g,” for example. Keep in mind that this might extend to multi-letter combinations as well. Your ancestor’s name may have been “C-a-r-r-i-e,” but the OCR might mistake this as “C-a-m-e.”
Here are two final tips to help you in your search:
Make a list of every variation of the name and spelling that you (and your family and friends) can think of. Check off each name as you complete the search.
Good luck on your search! Remember that “correct” spelling doesn’t count when it comes to searching for names in newspapers. It doesn’t matter so much how you think your ancestor’s name was spelled, or even really how they spelled it. What matters most is how the newspaper spelled it. Don’t automatically discount a newspaper mention of a person that seems likely to be your ancestor just because the newspaper spelled the name differently than you’re expecting!
Get started searching for your ancestors on Newspapers.com. And if you have any more tips, share them in the comments!
Since the founding of America, millions of people hoping for a brighter future left their home countries and immigrated to the United States. The number of immigrants increased dramatically after the Civil War with nearly 12 million arriving between 1870-1900. More than 70% of all immigrants entered through New York City. Castle Garden opened in 1855 as the primary immigration processing center and operated as such until Ellis Island’s opening in 1892 (though from 1890-1892, the center was moved to the U.S. Barge Office). We’ve scoured our newspaper archives to find the stories behind some of those immigrants’ arrivals.
Reunion with Loved Ones: In 1890, a woman from Russia arrived at Castle Garden to reunite with her sweetheart who arrived two years earlier and sent money for her passage. The journey took more than a month and her funds ran out. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, she finally made her way to Minnesota. Read her story here. In another instance, a Prussian man prepared for the arrival of his wife and five children in 1897. He rented a home in Maryland and purchased some furniture, but sadly suffered a fatal fall just hours after they reunited. This final clipping tells the story of Michael O’Brien, an Irish immigrant, who left his family to seek his fortune in America. He sent letters and money until one day when communication suddenly ceased. His worried wife and four children sailed for America, arriving at Castle Garden in 1878. The determined woman searched for O’Brien, only to learn that he had remarried and had another child. He undoubtedly had some explaining to do.
Do you have ancestors that arrived at Castle Garden? Use historic newspapers to learn about their experiences. Search Newspapers.com today!
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.
Last week, we shared our top search tips for finding your female ancestor in the papers on Newspapers.com. In this final post, we’ll be focusing on some vocabulary that you’re likely to come across while researching your female relatives.
Have you ever been reading about a female ancestor in the newspaper and seen them called a “relict”? Learning words like this can help us wring every last bit of information from a newspaper piece we find about our relative.
Brush up on 10 genealogy vocab words you might encounter
while researching your female ancestors!
A widow’s legal share of her deceased husband’s estate.
A woman appointed by the deceased to carry out the terms, directions, and
requests in a will. The feminine version of “executor.”
A title (similar to Mrs.) used before the surname of a married woman. Or, the
female head of a household.
dame: Grandmother. Or, an influential or prestigious woman, often elderly.
A married woman, often of a mature age.
Nee/née: “Born.” Used to indicate a
woman’s maiden name.
An unmarried woman, often older than what is considered the usual marriage age.
A woman who has written a will. The feminine version of “testator.”
Got any more genealogy vocab words you think might be
helpful? Share them with us in the comments!
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.
Last week, we suggested 10 newspaper sections for finding information about the women in your family tree. In this second post, we’ll be sharing our top search tips for finding your female ancestor in the papers on Newspapers.com.
Anyone who’s tried to research a female ancestor in the newspaper learns quickly that it’s often much more difficult than simply looking for the woman’s legal name. We wish it were that easy! But the way women were written about in old newspapers can prove a challenge to those of us doing family history today. Even though Newpspapers.com has amazing search and filtering capabilities, you have to search for the right keywords to turn up matches for the woman you’re looking for.
But don’t despair! We’ve got 5 top tips to increase your chances of finding your female ancestor on Newspapers.com!
1. Search for every
variation of her name.
And we mean every
variation. The name recorded on a census or other government record may or may
not be the name used in the newspaper. And even if it was, the newspaper may
have misspelled it!
Start off by searching for the woman’s legal name, but also
try alternative spellings, nicknames, name abbreviations, initials, common
misspellings, married name, maiden name, middle name . . . all of them. If she
has a relatively uncommon last name, try searching by surname alone. And if she
had a step-father, try searching with his last name as well, even if she didn’t
legally adopt it.
Once you’ve found a name that returns the search results you
want, it’s tempting to stop there. But don’t forget to go back and search the
other variations! Your female ancestor may have been referred to in more than
one way in the paper.
And be sure to keep a running list of what names you’ve
searched for so you don’t repeat or forget searches!
2. Search by her husband’s or male relatives’ names.
Because of societal expectations and traditions, married
women were often written about in historical newspapers using their husband’s
name (e.g., Mrs. John B. Smith) or husband’s initials (Mrs. J. B. Smith). So if
the female ancestor you’re looking for was married, try searching for her
husband’s name. And if she was married more than once, search for the names of
all her husbands.
You should also search using the name of her father,
brothers, or other close male relatives. You might find her referenced in
newspaper pieces as so-and-so’s daughter, sister, or mother. Plus, looking for
her father gives you the added benefit of perhaps being able to learn about
your female ancestor’s childhood. Was her father in a major accident when she
was a child? That would’ve shaped the life of her and her family.
When doing family history research, it can be easy to get
caught up in only researching our direct ancestors. But when researching women
in the newspaper, it can pay off to research people even in our non-direct
If you’re researching your great-grandmother, for example,
don’t only look for her name in the paper; look for her siblings as well.
Because even though her siblings aren’t your own direct ancestors, they were
all closely related to your great-grandma, and information about her can turn
up in articles about any of them.
4. Search by Address
At various points in the past, some newspapers included the
address or street name of the person they were writing about. So if you know
the address where your female ancestor was living, try a search using the
address or street name, rather than a person’s name.
Even if you don’t find your own ancestor mentioned, you
might find something about a neighbor that helps you learn about your own
family. For example, a newspaper piece about a next-door neighbor’s party may
reveal that their neighbor (your ancestor!) couldn’t make it because they were
in the hospital.
Plus, it never hurts to gain a better understanding of what
the neighborhood where your ancestor was living was like. You may even discover
information about the family that lived in the house before or after your
ancestor that sheds some light on your own relatives.
Once you’ve found a search on Newspapers.com that returns
results about your female ancestor, hit the “Save/Notify” button. Not only will
this save the search so you can come back to it later, but it will also
automatically notify you whenever Newspapers.com adds newspaper content that
has matches for your search.
Even if you can’t find a search that returns matches for the
person you’re looking for, you’ll still want to save the search. This way,
you’ll be notified if content is ever added to our site that does have a match.
If you prefer to check back on a search yourself, rather than being automatically notified, be sure to sort your search results by “Date Added.” By doing this, you’ll see new matches first, rather than older ones you may have already looked at.
We hope these tips give you some new ways to find
information about your relatives! Come back next week to learn some common
terms you might come across when doing newspaper research into your female
Got any search tips of your own? Share them with us in the
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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
When Erik and Sonni Bornmeier purchased Sonni’s great-grandmother’s
home several years ago, they had no idea that the military footlocker stored in
the basement would take them on an incredible journey of discovery to find the
remains of a WWII pilot shot down in France. The Bornmeiers’ used military
records from Fold3, newspaper articles
from Newspapers.com, numerous other
sources, and some ingenious detective work to piece together the story of
Sonni’s great uncle, 2nd Lt. George F. Wilson. He died in
France in 1944 and to this day his remains have not been identified. Erik
and Sonni are determined to bring him home. We share their journey in hopes
that the tips and strategies they’ve learned along the way can help someone
else in their research.
The journey to learn more about Uncle George began on Memorial
Day in 2018 when the Bornmeiers’ watched Band of Brothers. Touched by
the heroics of so many young soldiers, Erik and Sonni went to the basement and dusted
off George’s footlocker. Inside they found a stack of letters from George to
his mother. By the time they finished the last letter, they had come to know
George and wanted to know what happened to him.
Seven crew members were captured and taken POW, and one escaped
with the help of the French Resistance. All eight returned home after the war
and all reported that George was gravely injured, never bailed out, and went
down with the plane.
Using the witness statements from the MACR, Erik learned
that the German Army created a similar report to track all planes shot down.
Those reports, called Kampf Flugzeuge (KU) reports, were captured by the US
military after the war. Erik also learned French priests kept detailed reports
of what they witnessed during the war. Using the information in the MACR, the
KU report, and a French repository, Erik triangulated potential crash sites.
One witness in the MACR described that George avoided a
small town and a castle before crashing into a field. The next step for Erik
was to head to France and try to find the crash site.
Erik’s quest led him to the small town of Monchy-Cayeux. The
town matched the criteria in the witness statement (town, castle and nearby
fields). Erik met a local journalist and with his help, they started
questioning the town’s older residents. They found three eyewitnesses who were
young children during the war but remembered seeing a plane crash. One said, “I
remember it as if it were yesterday.” They guided Erik to a field and before
long Erik started to find pieces of debris. Word traveled and the town united
to help Erik. A young man showed up with a metal detector. Before long, they
found parts of a fuselage, gauges, bullets, and plexiglass from a windshield.
They found a crash site!
Erik’s time in France was short, but he has since returned
several more times. Each time he pieces together more of the story. The residents
of Monchy-Cayeux have rallied behind Erik and are anxious to help him find
answers. Two brothers who still live close to the crash site gave a detailed
account of locals gathering up weapons from the plane and throwing them in the
river. A local diver explored the river but failed to find anything. Another
report said George’s body was moved to a nearby family graveyard. A third
witness remembered a priest coming to bless a grave on the edge of the field. The
search to find George’s remains continues.
In the meantime, back home in the US, Erik and Sonni started
searching Newspapers.com to find
information on George’s crew. They found
clippings for many
of the crew
members, and before long, they learned that two of George’s crew members were
still alive! Erik hopped on a plane and had a wonderful meeting with them. They
provided Erik with personal accounts of that day and filled in many of the
The Bornmeiers’ are working with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the
government agency charged with bringing home the remains of Americans
unaccounted for. They continue to research and are anxious to return to France.
Residents of Monchy-Cayeux have taken ownership of this project and have begun
holding town meetings to research the town’s history and the role it played in
WWII. George is one of more than 72,000 Americans that remain unaccounted for
from WWII. Each day, efforts are being made to bring those soldiers home. To
learn the story of your WWII soldier, start your search today using Fold3 and Newspapers.com!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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