Don’t Ignore a Newspaper Search Result Just Because…

Newspaper research is often more of an art than a science, and information about your ancestors might be hiding in newspapers that you’d never expect!

It’s true that in most cases you should prioritize search results that line up with what you know about your ancestor. But if you’ve already looked through those matches, or if your search didn’t turn up the results you wanted, it never hurts to broaden the types of results you look at.

Here are 3 types of matches on™ that you shouldn’t ignore just because they appear irrelevant at first!

26 Mar 1932, Sat The Record American (Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania)

1. Don’t ignore a search result just because… It’s outside the date range you think it should be.

There are a number of reasons why information about your ancestor might appear in the newspaper after their death. Here are just a few:

  • Their obituary might not have been published immediately after their death (especially if it ran in a weekly newspaper rather than a daily one).
  • They might be named in an obituary or other newspaper item about one of their children or another family member who outlived them.
  • Information about them could appear in an article about a family reunion of their descendants.
  • They might be mentioned in an article about the history of a town, business, organization, etc.
  • An old news story about them might have been re-printed in a column highlighting events from local history.  

2. Don’t ignore a search result just because… It’s from a different location than you expect.

Here are some common situations that illustrate why you shouldn’t automatically skip over matches from locations where your ancestor didn’t live.

  • They could have visited a family member or friend in a different city or state.
  • They might have temporarily moved to a new location (for schooling, a short-term job, military service, etc.).
  • An article mentioning them may have been picked up by a nearby town’s newspaper (including across state lines) or have been syndicated in papers across the country.
  • An item about them could’ve been published in a town they had moved away from or where a family member lived (especially for birth announcements, marriage announcements, and obituaries). 
  • They might have been written about in the newspaper of the county seat or the nearest newspaper of record.
  • A story about them could’ve been published in a non-local paper that served a particular demographic they belonged to (religious, ethnic, racial, job/trade, etc.).
A Kentucky wedding announcement published in an African American Pittsburgh newspaperA Kentucky wedding announcement published in an African American Pittsburgh newspaper 14 Jul 1934, Sat The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

3. Don’t ignore a search result just because… Their name is spelled differently or a different name is used (or no name is included at all!)

Here are a few reasons why:

  • The newspaper may have misspelled the person’s name.
  • The newspaper might have used the wrong first or last name.
  • The person may have had a nickname you are unaware of.
  • The newspaper could be using the person’s first and middle initial rather than name. (For married women, this can also include referring to them by their husband’s name or initials: Mrs. John Doe Smith, Mrs. J.D. Smith.)
  • An article might refer to them only as so-and-so’s brother, so-and-so’s daughter, etc., rather than using their name.

Keep in mind that when looking at search results that don’t match known dates, locations, and spellings, you should be extra careful to verify that the person mentioned is really your ancestor. Information that strays too far from what you know about a person will need even more scrutiny than usual.

But next time you feel like you can’t find anything about an ancestor in the newspaper, try adjusting the™ search filters you’re using (like those for date and location) to expand your search! You just might find the information you’re looking for in an unexpected place!

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