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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tip: Where to Look for Your Ancestors in the Newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tip: How to Search by County

Newspapers.com News, Finds and Tips

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

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

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

Searching within the papers of a specific county is easy.

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

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

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

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6 Tips for Searching Obituaries on Newspapers.com

Newspapers.com News, Finds and Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tip: How to Save to Ancestry.com

News, Finds, Tips of the Month

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips: Travel News and Vacation Plans

Cover photo

People love reading about themselves in the paper. Gossip about others ranks right up there, too. Historically, vacation and travel information were regular features in newspapers around the country, especially in summertime.

Davenport Democrat
Let’s check in on a few of these “personals” columns to get news of vacation plans for residents of communities around the country in decades past. In an August 1890 issue of The Ironwood Times in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we learn that Florence Bassett returned from her vacation to Minnesota, and Dr. McLeod was heading there for a chicken hunt, after meeting up with his buddies John Ross and attorney George Hayden.

An entire page of The Galveston Daily News in July 1923 was devoted to “The Week’s Society in Various Texas Towns.” In this section, we learn that Dr. and Mrs. Norris and their little son spent a month in California before returning to Madisonville, TX. In the column next to it, we read that several people in Sealy “motored” to their destinations.

If you were picnicking and swimming at Stonewall Sportsman’s Club Lake in Ada, OK, in August 1962 and wondered why the Morgans were driving a blue car, you’ll learn that they had car trouble and had to borrow one. Those were the days when everyone’s business was a community affair.

Davenport Democrat
A hundred years ago, Floridians headed out of state on their vacations. Dr. Liken and his wife left the beach for a sojourn in the mountains before spending several weeks in New York City. Rev. Bowen, while vacationing in Kansas, wrote his wife that he “had really forgotten how disagreeable Kansas weather is” as it was 110 in the shade and dust was flying.

As people traveled a lot, there were obviously others ready to receive visitors. The Kokomo Tribune in Indiana reported on house guests, as well as reunions. Sometimes these help us find family relationships like when Miss Aseneth Hanson visited her sister Mrs. Billy Jackson, in the Oakland neighborhood.

Naturally, Canadians like to vacation, too, so it’s no surprise to find news in The Winnipeg Tribune under “At the Beaches” in August 1922 with a list of 15 families enjoying their summer vacations by the water.

Search for family surnames in locations your ancestors and their cousins may have lived. Add keywords—vacation, visit, guest, travel—if you want to concentrate your search on a particular activity. Or, simply browse the society or community columns for your family’s local paper on Newspapers.com to see what summer adventures they had.

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