A Step-By-Step Guide to Newspaper Family History Research

14 Jul 1934, Sat The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.com


Newspapers can be an incredible resource for family history research. Not only do they have birth, marriage, and death announcements, but they are a valuable source of stories, photos, and more.

If you’re just learning how to use newspapers to do family history research, we’ve come up with a step-by-step guide to help you get started. This guide will help you organize your research before, during, and after your newspaper search!

(Our guide is meant to provide general suggestions to help you organize your newspaper family history research. Be sure to personalize our advice to fit your own research needs. And for help learning about Newspapers.com™ site basics, visit our Help Center.)

Before you get started: Pick one ancestor to research at a time.

We recommend researching just one person at a time to help focus your research and minimize distractions. You will often need to try a variety of newspaper searches to find the ancestor you’re looking for; and when you stick to one person, it becomes easier to keep track of potential searches you want to try.

Tip: If you discover information about another ancestor while researching your focus person, be sure to clip or save that newspaper article and make a note to come back to it when you have time to research that other ancestor.

Step 1. Write down what you already know about your ancestor.

Write down the things you already know about your ancestor. Gathering the known facts will allow you to narrow your newspaper search and help you differentiate your ancestor from other people who have the same name. For example, if you already know your ancestor was born in 1880, you can filter out newspaper matches for their name in the years before their birth, making the number of search results more manageable.

23 Jan 1921, Sun The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) Newspapers.com


Facts to write down before you start newspaper research (if you know them) include:

  • The person’s full name and any known nicknames
  • Important dates in their life (birth, marriage, death, military service, immigration)
  • Names of close family members or other key individuals in the ancestor’s life
  • Locations they lived (you’d be surprised by how many discoveries are made by searching an address!)

Step 2. Consider what you want to learn about your ancestor.

Setting goals and objectives is often helpful in family history research. So before you start searching newspapers, consider what you want to learn about your ancestor. Is their birthdate a mystery? Are you not sure of their father’s name? Is there a family story you’ve always heard and want to substantiate?

Clarifying what you want to find out will help you decide the best way to set up your newspaper search. For example, if your goal is to find your ancestor’s marriage date, you may want to start by searching for a marriage announcement in the Newspapers.com Marriage Index collection.

Examples of things you may want to learn:

  • Dates of important life events
  • Locations of important life events
  • Names of your ancestor or their parents/siblings/etc.
  • Life stories and anecdotes
  • The general history of the time and place they were living

Step 3. Choose strategies for how you plan to learn about your ancestor.

Now that you know what you want to learn about your ancestor from newspapers, it’s time to plan how you’re going to find it. This includes thinking about things like which specific newspapers or cities you want to search in first. Though you may need to adjust your strategy as you go along, starting out with a plan in mind will help provide structure and organization to your research.

In forming your research strategy, consider things like:

  • In which geographic locations am I most likely to find newspaper mentions of my ancestor? (e.g., cities, counties, states, countries)
  • Am I aware of a local newspaper that my ancestor is likely to be mentioned in?
  • What year range am I most likely to find my ancestor mentioned in?
  • What are alternative search terms I might need to try if my first search doesn’t work? (E.g., what are nicknames, alternative spellings, or name abbreviations that my ancestor might be mentioned under?)

LEARN MORE: Tips for searching with name and spelling variations in newspapers

Tip: Keep in mind that people can be mentioned in newspapers in locations you’d never expect and from years long after their deaths. For instance, one young woman was born in West Virginia and died in Idaho in 1893. But her marriage announcement appeared in a Pennsylvania newspaper! Her parents had lived in Pennsylvania before their deaths, and a paper there published news of her engagement. 

Step 4. Document (and clip!) what you are learning from your newspaper search.

Once you begin finding newspaper mentions about you ancestor, be sure to document what you’ve learned! It would be frustrating to discover something about your ancestor, only to forget the specifics later because you didn’t document your discovery!

When researching on Newspapers.com, one easy way to document your discoveries is through our clipping tool. If you think you might want to refer to a newspaper article in the future—clip it! Even experienced newspaper researchers sometimes come across a discovery, fail to clip it, and then can’t find it again. (If you find yourself in this situation, you can select “Recently Viewed” in the dropdown box below your username to see the last few newspaper pages you viewed).

Making a clipping on Newspapers.com
Making a clipping on Newspapers.com

You can view all your clippings on your Clippings page (accessible under the “Clippings” tab at the top of our site, or by clicking your username and selecting “My Clippings” from the dropdown box). And if you title your clippings—which we always recommend—you can search for them on your Clippings page, making locating them again a snap. You can even filter your clippings by options such as date or newspaper. You also have the option to adjust the privacy settings on your clippings.

LEARN MORE: How (and Why) to Use Our Clipping & Embed Tools

Discoveries you’ll want to document include:

  • Names, dates & locations
  • Stories & anecdotes
  • Photos
  • Local/national news events that may have affected your ancestor’s life
  • Clues that might lead you to further avenues of research

And don’t forget to save what you find to your tree on Ancestry® if you have one!

LEARN MORE: How to save a clipping to Ancestry

Step 5. Reflect on what you want to learn in the future.

When you’ve gone through all your newspaper search results, it’s time to think about what else you can do to learn about your ancestor in the newspaper.

Things to consider:

  • Are there other names or search terms you might be able to use to find your ancestor?
  • Are there any parts of your ancestor’s life that need more research?
  • Is there anything you couldn’t discover now but may want to come back to in the future?
  • Did any new questions about your ancestor come up as you were researching?
  • What next steps can you take to discover more about your ancestor?
  • Has something you’ve learned in a newspaper suggested a non-newspaper record you could search? (e.g., a marriage announcement leading you to a marriage registry)
24 Dec 1927, Sat Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) Newspapers.com


Other things to keep track of

Other things you’ll want to keep track of while you do newspaper family history research include:

  • Citations! Make sure you keep track of where you found your information. Clippings and downloaded PDF images on Newspapers.com come with the newspaper title and date included, but you may want to keep track of this information separately as well.
  • Tech-y stuff. Did you save all your newspaper downloads in a particular file on your computer? Did you title all your clippings a consistent way so that you could search for them later? Make a note so you’ll remember.

More resources

We hope this guide has been helpful. Family history research is challenging at times, but newspapers can provide richness and depth not available with traditional records!  

Here are some of our other family history blog posts that may help you in your newspaper research:

Get started searching for your ancestors on Newspapers.com™! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more content like this!

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5 Ways to Learn about Ancestors You Can’t Find in the Newspaper

Mon, May 9, 1904 – 1 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com


Finding an ancestor mentioned by name in a newspaper can feel like hitting the family history jackpot. We even have a blog post with strategies for doing so.

READ MORE: Top strategies for finding your ancestor by name in the newspaper

But it’s not possible to find all our ancestors this way, either because the right newspaper hasn’t been digitized yet or because the person was never mentioned in a newspaper in the first place.

Even if you can’t find your ancestor by name, you can still use newspapers to learn about their lives. So we’ve compiled 5 ways newspapers can help you discover more about the ancestors you can’t find mentioned.

1. Learn about the area in which your ancestor lived by browsing their local newspaper.

Learning about the time and place in which your ancestors lived can tell you a lot about what their lives may have been like. Newspapers are perfect for this kind of research, since they serve as a kind of time capsule of the past. So take time to look through your ancestor’s local newspaper to find out what life was like in the neighborhood, city, or state they lived in.

Sun, Oct 15, 1922 – 21 · The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii) · Newspapers.com


On Newspapers.com, an easy way to find your ancestor’s local newspaper is by going to the Papers page and searching for the city they lived in. If we don’t currently have papers from that location, try using our newspaper Map to locate the nearest 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 will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by looking at just one.

Browse 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. From photos, to weather reports, 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.

Thu, Dec 7, 1922 – 2 · La Prensa (San Antonio, Texas) · Newspapers.com


You might be surprised at how much you can learn about an ancestor’s life from seemingly unimportant newspaper sections. A local grocery ad, for example, could tell you which foods your ancestor may have eaten based on availability and affordability.

READ MORE: Discover more newspaper sections that can teach you about your ancestors

2. Explore newspapers specific to your ancestor’s social demographics.

If your ancestor belonged to a particular religion, race, ethnicity, or other social demographic, try browsing newspapers published during their lifetime that served that community. These might include Jewish or Catholic newspapers, Black papers, or Spanish- or German-language papers—just to name a few.

Newspapers that served a specific social demographic often reported on news and issues that were left out of mainstream papers. Reading these community-specific papers can give you an entirely different perspective on what your ancestor may have experienced.

Sat, Mar 22, 1919 – Page 1 · The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


Some of these papers focused primarily on local happenings, but others were national in scope. For instance, the Pittsburgh Courier and Kansas City Sun, two historically Black papers, published news about Black Americans from all over the United States, not just Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

3. Read newspaper accounts of people in circumstances similar to your ancestor’s. 

Another approach is to look for newspaper accounts of people whose life circumstances were similar to your ancestor’s.

For example, did your ancestor immigrate through Ellis Island or Angel Island? Newspapers have numerous firsthand accounts of such journeys. Were your family members farmers in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl? Newspapers extensively covered what life was like during that time. Did you have an ancestor who worked for women’s suffrage? Newspapers can tell you what that movement was like on a local, state, and national level. Did one of your family members fight in World War II? Newspapers can help you better understand wartime experiences through photos, letters, articles, and more.

READ MORE: How to find your WWII soldier’s story in newspapers

4. Look for newspaper photos.

Even if the photo isn’t of your ancestors, newspaper photos from their lifetime can help you picture them and the area they lived in. Newspaper photos (or illustrations if it was before the photo age) can help answer questions like: What were people wearing? What were the hairstyles? What did the town or city itself look like? What did local businesses, factories, and farms look like? How did a natural disaster affect the city? How did residents celebrate holidays? And much more!

Thu, Feb 5, 1925 – Page 37 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com


5. Set a search alert.

Even with the above tips, we know that you’re probably still hoping to find your ancestor mentioned by name in the newspaper. So we recommend setting a search alert on Newspapers.com so you’ll be automatically informed by email when we add a newspaper page that has results that match criteria you specify. To do this, simply set up the search you want (for example, “John Doe” in Kansas newspapers), then select the +Alert button on the search results page.

Location of the +Alert button
Location of the +Alert button

Good Luck!

We hope you find these ideas helpful! Even if you’re lucky enough to have already found your ancestor mentioned by name in the newspaper, the journey doesn’t have to stop there. Newspapers can help you piece together the stories that create a more detailed picture of your ancestor’s life! 

Start researching your ancestors on Newspapers.com! And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more helpful tips and historical content like this!

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Search the World’s Largest Archive of Historical Wedding Announcements

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the first phase of our Newspapers.com Marriage Index collection. The Marriage Index collection is a searchable archive of more than 50 million U.S. wedding announcements! We’ve teamed up with Ancestry® to train machine learning algorithms to scour more than 600 million pages of digitized newspapers to extract wedding announcements.

Wedding announcements often contain detailed genealogical information, including the names of family members, biographical details, addresses, and more. These key details can break down genealogical brick walls and open up new research avenues.

How Does it Work?

Using OCR (optical character recognition), we’ve converted our archive of newspapers into machine-readable text. We’ve trained computers to identify keywords often associated with wedding announcements. The computer then draws a text box around that announcement. If you hover over the announcement and then click on the text box, you will see a dialogue box pop up. It has the information we’ve indexed. That indexed information is searchable in our Marriage Index. Occasionally you might notice an incorrect date or misspelled names. This is a result of the OCR conversion process. You can correct the facts by clicking on “Add alternate info” within the dialogue box. Your updates will then become searchable for other users. You then have the option to electronically clip the announcement and save it or attach it to your Ancestry® tree.

The first phase of this release contains information from more than 200 million records from over 50 million lists and wedding announcements from the United States dating from 1800-1999.

  • List marriage announcements were usually a weekly list of couples that had applied for a marriage license that week. The lists usually contained the names of the bride and groom only. See an example of a list announcement here.
  • Non-list marriage announcements might contain detailed information about the bride and groom, photographs, addresses, the names of relatives, the wedding officiant, and wedding guests. See an example of a non-list announcement here.

You will soon see wedding announcement hints to your Ancestry® tree. These hints can lead to personal discoveries and genealogical breakthroughs! We will continue to update this index with additional wedding announcements and international wedding announcements in the future. Start searching our Marriage Index collection today on Newspapers.com.

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How (and Why) to Use Our Clipping & Embed Tools

The Clipping and Embed tools on Newspapers.com make it easy to save and share what you find on our site. Here’s what you need to know:

Clippings

What Is a Clipping?

Have you ever cut out an article from a physical copy of a newspaper? Clippings on Newspapers.com are the same concept—but on our site you use virtual scissors to save the newspaper content that interests you.

Why Use Clippings?

Clippings are a convenient way to keep track of the things you discover on Newspapers.com, as well as a great way to share what you find with others.

Newspapers.com “Share” options

One reason to using clippings is that when you share a clipping, others can see the article (and the newspaper page it came from) for free, even if they don’t subscribe to Newspapers.com. You can share clippings by selecting the “Share” button, which makes it easy to share by email or on Facebook and Twitter. You can also share a clipping by copying and pasting its URL, or by embedding it in a blog, website, online article, etc. (See below for more about our Embed feature.)

Another advantage to using clippings is that each clipping is saved with the newspaper’s title and date permanently attached. If you choose to print a clipping, that important information is printed as well.

How to Make a Clipping

  1. Select the “Clip” button (the scissor icon) at the top of the viewer
  2. Move and resize the clipping box around what you want to clip
  3. Add a title or description for the clipping
  4.  Select the blue “Clip” button
Clippings sort and filter options

Once you’ve clipped something, it is saved to your Clippings list on our site, where you can easily find it again. To access your clippings, just select the “Clippings” link at the top of any page on our site. You can also get to your clippings by selecting your member name in the upper right of the site and then selecting “My Clippings.

From your Clippings list, you can choose to view clips by “Me” or “Everyone.” Clippings can be sorted by the date they were clipped or by the date of the paper they were clipped from. Additional filters can be applied as you choose.

Privacy Settings

By default, clippings you make are “public” (other people will see what you’ve clipped on the Clippings list, in search, or on your profile). You can hide your clippings from the public with the privacy settings found on the Clipping Settings page under Account Details. These settings change the default setting for new clippings. You can also change the privacy settings for an individual clipping when you create or edit it.


Embed

What Does It Mean to Embed a Clipping?

Embedded clippings are a simple way to include newspaper content from our site in your website, blog, online article, etc.

Below are examples of a clipping we’ve embedded in this article using two different styles: “embed” and “advanced embed.” Notice that if you click on one, it takes you to the original clipping on Newspapers.com.

Embed:

“Must Quit Kissing” (1918 flu pandemic) Tue, Oct 8, 1918 – 10 · Knoxville Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee) · Newspapers.com


Advanced embed:


Why Embed a Clipping?

Although you can download newspaper articles from our site as an image file (.jpg), the Embed tool is often more useful when publishing online.

If you use a .jpg file in your blog, website, online article, etc., only the image is shown. But embedding a clipping creates a clickable image that will allow your readers to also view the clipping (and the newspaper page it came from) on our site for free, whether they subscribe to Newspapers.com or not.

Embedded clippings also automatically include the newspaper citation information below the image, so that’s one less step for you!

How to Embed a Clipping

(Note: Only public clippings can be embedded.)

Embed options on Newspapers.com
  1. Use our Clipping tool to clip the newspaper content you want to embed
  2. From the “Share” options, select “Embed”
  3. Choose the size you prefer for the embedded image: large, medium, or small
  4. If you desire, you can select “Advanced embed,” which uses an iframe tag and includes more information
  5. Copy and paste the embed code into your blog, website, online article, etc.

If you need the clipping’s URL (e.g., for an in-text link), that is available from the Embed options as well.

We hope this “how to” has been helpful. For more help using Newspapers.com, visit our Help Center.

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Newspaper Marriage Announcements: Using the Language of Love to Break Down Genealogical Walls

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)!

Wedding Announcement 1933

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.

The Seattle Star: January 18, 1917

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!

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Top Strategies for Searching for Your Ancestor by Name in the Newspaper

Tue, Mar 31, 1908 – 5 · The Honolulu Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii) · Newspapers.com


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!

Example of two brothers who spelled their surname differently, 1939Example of two brothers who spelled their surname differently, 1939 Thu, Jul 20, 1939 – 1 · Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) · Newspapers.com


Name Variations

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.”


Spelling Variations

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.”

Final Tips

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.
  • Use wildcards in your Newpapers.com search to help account for spelling variations in names. Learn more about wildcards here.

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!

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Find Your WWII Soldier’s Story in Newspapers!

On May 8th, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, the formal acceptance of Germany’s unconditional surrender in Europe. To honor the legacy of our WWII soldiers, we want to help you tell their story. Historical newspapers are a great way to research your WWII veteran. Here are some tips and tricks for researching your soldier’s story in Newspapers.com.

  1. Begin your search by name. Just enter your soldier’s name in the search tab. You can narrow the results by refining dates, locations, or keywords. Maybe the local paper ran a story about your soldier enlisting. This can provide valuable clues about which branch of the service your soldier served in. You might even learn what regiment or company he or she belonged to. Hometown newspapers often reported when a local soldier was injured or killed, home on leave, or discharged. If multiple siblings served from one family, search all names, including the parents. Newspapers often include photographs of soldiers too. If you don’t find your soldier in a name search, don’t despair, there are some other tricks!
  2. Search for specific battles. If you know your soldier fought in a specific battle, use that battle as your search keyword. You might not find your soldier specifically mentioned, but others provided first-hand accounts. These details can help you construct a story.
  3. Search by battalion, division, company, name of a Navy ship, etc. Did your soldier’s company/battalion have a famous nickname? Or do you know the name of the commanding officer? These searches can also provide valuable results. Newspapers tracked the movements of our soldiers and reported daily on skirmishes and battles. You can create a timeline of your soldier’s movements by tracking those stories.
  4. Search by date. If you have records showing your soldier was wounded or killed on a specific date, search for battles fought at that same time and place.
  5. Search by location. Do you know, for example, that your soldier was part of the Japanese occupation force? Use that in your search term. When we searched that term and filtered the dates from 1944-1947, it returned more than 300,000 search results. Do you have a Navy veteran that served in the Solomon Islands? You could search “Asiatic-Pacific Theater”. The more details you have, the more you can narrow your search.
  6. Personal interviews. Over the years, many of our WWII veterans have given lengthy interviews in newspapers. These first-hand narratives provide amazing insight into what our soldiers experienced. Expand your search beyond the war years, some of these soldiers didn’t share their story for decades.
  7. Search the names of fellow soldiers. Do you have records, photographs, or journals that mention the names of soldiers that served with your ancestor? Research those soldier’s names for more detail.
  8. Search post-war clubs and associations. Many soldiers joined clubs, fraternal organizations, and associations after returning from their service. For example, the American Legion changed its charter after WWII to allow returning soldiers to join its ranks.
  9. Search obituaries. Often the families of deceased soldiers shared details and stories of their military service in their obituaries, even decades later. Even if you are not related to this person, their obituary may shed light on your own ancestor’s service.

Preserving the story of our WWII veterans is a great way to honor their service! Please share your finds in the comments below. Get started searching your WWII veteran on Newspapers.com today!

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What Can You Learn from Each U.S. Census?

Have you received your invitation to complete the 2020 Census yet? In 1790, about one year after George Washington was inaugurated, the United States conducted its first census. Since that time, the government has conducted a census every ten years. These decennial census records provide a historical snapshot of families and are key records for genealogical research. Check out some of the headlines surrounding the census over the years and find out what made each census unique!

News From the First Census – 1790

1790: Enumerators gathered the name of head of household; number of free white males 16 years and older; number of free white males under 16; number of free white females; number of all other free persons; number of slaves; and sometimes town or district of residence. 

1800: Name of head of household; number of free white males and females broken down into age categories; number of free white persons except Indians not taxed (Native Americans are referred to as Indians throughout these early records); number of slaves; town or district and county of residence.

1810: Name of head of household; number of free white males and females broken down into age categories; number of free white persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; town or district and county of residence.

1820: Name of head of household; number of free white males and females broken down into age categories; number of free persons except Indians not taxed; number of slaves; and town or district and county of residence; number of free white males to be naturalized; number engaged in agriculture, commercial, or manufacture; number of “colored” persons; and number of other persons except Indians.

1830: Name of head of household; number of free white males and females broken down into age categories; the name of a slave owner and the number of slaves owned by that person; the number of male and female slaves and free “colored” persons by age categories; the number of foreigners not naturalized; the number of deaf, dumb, and blind persons; town or district, and county of residence.

Census Marshall Says Those Who Take The Newspaper Make His Job Easier – 1830

1840: Name of head of household; number of free white males and females broken down into age categories; the name of a slave owner and the number of slaves owned by that person; the number of male and female slaves and free “colored” persons by age categories; the number of foreigners (not naturalized); the number of deaf, dumb, and blind persons within a household; town or district, and county of residence. For the first time, the 1840 census asked the ages of Revolutionary War pensioners and the number of individuals engaged in mining, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, trade, and the navigation of oceans, lakes, and canals. Questions relating to education and learned professionals were also included.

1850: For the first time in 1850, enumerators recorded the name of every person in the household. Also included were: age; sex; color; birthplace; occupation of males over 15; value of real estate; whether married within the previous year; whether deaf-mute, blind, insane or “idiotic”; whether able to read or write for individuals over age 20; and whether the person attended school within the previous year. In addition, the 1850 and 1860 Federal Censuses included Slave Schedules that recorded age, sex, and color, and whether the slave was a fugitive, freed, deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic. However, the name of the slave was often omitted.

1860: Names of every person in the household; age; sex; color; birthplace; occupation of persons over age 15; value of real estate; whether married in previous year; deaf, dumb, blind, insane, a pauper, or a convict; whether able to read or speak English; whether the person attended school within the previous year. As noted above, 1860 also included Slave Schedules.

1870: Names of every person in the household; age; sex; color; profession; occupation or trade of every male and female; value of real estate; place of birth; whether mother or father were of foreign birth; whether born or married within the year and month; those who could not read or write; whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane or “idiotic”.

Residents Prepare for Census – 1870

1880: Name; address including name of street and house number; relation of each person to head of household; sex; race; age; marital status; ability to read and write; birthplace; birthplace of parents; occupation; whether blind, deaf, dumb, crippled, maimed, idiotic, insane, bedridden, or disabled.

1890: Most of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire. You can read about it here. There are very few surviving fragments. If you’re lucky enough to find your family, you’ll see that each family has an individual page. Enumerators gathered information including name; surname; relationship; race; gender; age; birthplace; birthplace of father and mother; and a Veterans Schedule that included information about military service.

1900: Name; address; relationship to head of household; color or race; sex; month and year of birth; age at last birthday; marital status; number of years married; total number of children born of mother; the number of those children living; places of birth of each person and parents of each person; if individual is of foreign birth, the year of immigration and the number of years in United States; citizenship status of foreign-born individuals over age 21; occupation; whether person could read, write, and speak English; whether home was owned or rented; whether the home was on a farm; whether the home was mortgaged.

Definition of a “Census Family” 1910

1910: Name; name of street; house number or farm; number of dwelling in order of visitation; number of family in order of visitation; relationship to head of household; sex; color or race; age; marital status; number of years married; for mothers, number of children born and living; place of birth, place of birth of father and mother; year of immigration; whether naturalized; whether able to speak English, or if not, language spoken; trade or profession, industry, employer, employee, or working on own account, whether person was out of work during 1909; whether able to read or write; farm or house, whether survivor of Union or Confederate Army or Navy; whether blind, deaf, or dumb. There were also separate Indian population schedules for 1910 in which the tribe and/or band was recorded.

1920: Name; name of street; house number or farm; number of dwelling in order of visitation; number of family in order of visitation; relationship to head of household; whether home owned or rented and mortgaged; sex, color or race; age; marital status; year of immigration; whether naturalized or alien; near of naturalization; whether attended school; whether able to read/write; place of birth; mother tongue; father’s and mother’s place of birth; whether able to speak English; trade or profession; industry or business; employer, salary or wage worker; number of farm schedule.

1930: Name; address; home owned or rented and value; whether home has a radio; sex; race; marital status; college attendance; ability to read and write; birthplace, birthplace of parents; language spoken before coming to the US; year of immigration; naturalized or alien; ability to speak English; occupation; military information.

It’s Census Time Again – Los Angeles Times 1940

1940: Name; address; home value and rented or owned; relationship to head of household; sex; race; age; marital status; education; place of birth; citizenship; residence in 1935; employment status; occupation; income in 1939; birthplace of father and mother; native language; veteran status; social security details; occupation; industry; class of worker; marriage information; number of children.

Genealogists are eagerly awaiting the release of the 1950 census which is scheduled for April 2022. To learn more about each decennial census and to see how newspapers reported on the census over the years, search Newspapers.com today or visit our Topics Page!

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Solving a WWII Mystery Using Newspapers.com and Fold3

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. 

2nd Lt. George F. Wilson

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. 

The first answers came when Erik found a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) on Fold3. The MACR revealed that George served in the 8th Air Force, 398th Bomb Group, 601st Squadron. On July 8, 1944, George was piloting a B-17 when enemy flak hit the plane severely wounding George. The plane was losing altitude and George ordered his crew of eight to bail out.

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.

2nd Lt. George F. Wilson and Crew

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.

Page From MACR Identifying Crew Members

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.

Debris From Crash Site

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 gaps.

Erick and Sonni Bornmeier

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!

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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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