New Jersey Papers Added!

Do you have ancestors from New Jersey? We’re happy to announce that our New Jersey archives are expanding! We have 46 New Jersey papers from the Gannett Company that contain over eight million pages of content. Here are just a few of the titles:

The Record: Our issues date back to 1898 in the midst of the Spanish-American War. The Record covers news from Bergen, Hudson, Essex, and Passaic counties in New Jersey. You can also check for news from nearby New York counties like Rockland County.  The Record was initially published six days a week, but a Sunday edition was added in 1968. The Record archive also includes The Chronicle, a community weekly newspaper that started in 2005. The Record reported on one of the largest acts of foreign sabotage ever committed in the country when German spies attacked a huge munition depot in Kingsland (later renamed Lyndhurst) in 1917. The attack caused a massive explosion and contributed to America entering World War I.  

The Herald-News: With issues dating back to 1893, the Herald-News focuses on Passaic County. Our collection contains the archives of the Passaic Sunday Eagle, Daily News, Daily Herald, and The Item. Many of the county’s early residents worked in the metalwork industry and textile factories. The 1926 Passaic textile strike resulted in a work stoppage by more than 15,000 mill workers and lasted more than a year. At one point, the Workers (Communist) Party helped workers organize a “United Front Committee” to negotiate with mill owners. When the strike ended in 1927 it was the first Communist-led work stoppage in the United States.

The Montclair Times: We have issues of the Montclair Times that go all the way back to 1877, just a few years after the Montclair township was formed. This archive also includes issues of The Saturday Gazette from 1872-1873. Montclair became known as a desirable place for New York businessmen and their families to build a home outside the city. In the 1870s, as many as six-thousand Montclair commuters traveled to the city each day. In 1878, a huge fire destroyed an entire city block including the Jacobus Building that housed the press for the Montclair Times, but the paper managed still managed to publish the next edition. If you have ancestors from Montclair, search columns like Notes About Town for their names.

Court Records Survive Fire

The News: Based in Paterson, New Jersey, our archives for The News go back to 1890 and include issues from The Morning Call and the Morning News. Paterson was the nation’s first planned industrial city, laid out in part by Alexander Hamilton in 1792. A 77-foot high waterfall called Great Falls provided power for mills and factories and helped Paterson become an important industrial center. Edward B. Haines founded The News and chronicled the city’s headlines including the great fire of 1902. The fire destroyed more than 450 buildings. Many of the town’s important court records survived because they were kept in a vault.

Get started searching these and other New Jersey newspapers today!

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“He Met 20 Ghosts”

Here’s an interesting article from 1922. A man named William H. Bryson claimed to have been visited by many ghosts from his past, and all but one were “first rate chaps.”

He Met 20 Ghosts

He Met 20 Ghosts Sun, Mar 12, 1922 – 8 · New York Herald (New York, New York) ·

Bryson claims ghosts don't have clammy hands or exhale carbon dioxide

Bryson claims ghosts don’t have clammy hands or exhale carbon dioxide Sun, Mar 12, 1922 – 8 · New York Herald (New York, New York) ·

Those last couple lines are in reference to a haunted farm in Caledonia Mills, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, a story that was making its own trail in the papers of early 1922.

The Ghostly Fellows

Most of the ghosts Bryson met were friendly, and were often people he’d known in life.

Some of Bryson's Ghosts

Some of Bryson’s Ghosts Sun, Mar 12, 1922 – 8 · New York Herald (New York, New York) ·

But according to Bryson, the ghosts did not appreciate being given the cold shoulder (though it seems nothing malevolent came of their frustration.) Only one ghost was ever unwelcome, an old business partner who haunted Bryson for six straight nights to scold him for losing his money.

Despite all these visitations, Bryson seemed pretty comfortable with the whole experience.

Bryson not nervous about ghostly visitors

Bryson not nervous about ghostly visitors Sun, Mar 12, 1922 – 8 · New York Herald (New York, New York) ·

See the full article here, or try a search for similar stories on

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The 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad

On May 10, 1869, a golden spike was ceremoniously driven at Promontory Point in the Utah Territory. The spike joined the rails of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad and created the country’s first transcontinental railroad.  

Before this, a journey to the west could take six months by land; or six weeks by water either by sailing around Cape Horn; or by sailing to Central America and then crossing the Isthmus of Panama by train. It was also expensive, costing more than $1,000. After the completion of the railroad, the same trip took seven days and cost less than $150.

The idea of a transcontinental railroad dated back to the early 1800s. In 1845, New York merchant Asa Whitney asked Congress for a grant to purchase public lands to expand the railroad to the Pacific. Initially, his proposal received a lukewarm welcome. After the US acquired California following the Mexican War in 1848, it started to gain momentum. Whitney did his best to keep the issue at the forefront of public discussion by publishing a pamphlet called “Project for a Railroad to the Mississippi,” where he outlined possible rail routes.

In 1862, Congress passed the Railroad Act granting land and government bonds to the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad. 

The first track for the Central Pacific line was laid in Sacramento in October 1863. Their workers consisted primarily of Chinese laborers who managed to reach the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by 1867. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad started building west from Omaha, Nebraska in 1865. Its workforce primarily consisted of soldiers from the recently ended Civil War, many of whom were Irish immigrants. Construction of the rail lines was swift, due in part to the fact that Congress offered bonds valued between $16,000 and $48,000, depending on terrain, for each mile of railroad completed. The enticement of land grants and government bonds led both railroads to work as quickly as possible. The two companies could have joined rails as early as January 1869, but the incentives kept them going and they laid 225 miles of parallel track before agreeing to halt construction.  

Just before noon on May 10, 1869, two trains, one from Central Pacific from the West and a Union Pacific train from the east, moved into position for the formal golden spike ceremony and the joining of the rails. After remarks from dignitaries, officials drove the ceremonial golden spike into in the rail. Telegraph lines carried the sounds of the spike being driven across the nation. The crowds cheered and a band played “Star Spangled Banner.”

Some have characterized the transcontinental railroad as one of the greatest achievements of the 19th century. If you would like to learn more about the transcontinental railroad or the golden spike ceremony, visit our topic page and search today!

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Orphan Trains Head West

Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight: May 21, 1927

St. Louis Refugee Ship Forced to Return to Europe: June 6, 1939

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Bald Eagle, Balloon, Battle

Punchy headlines can be great at letting you know what’s up…sometimes quite literally. This particular battle not only involves a bald eagle, but a hot air balloon and the aeronaut within.

Battle with a Bald Eagle

Battle with a Bald Eagle Fri, Oct 9, 1891 – 2 · The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) ·

For a while the eagle circled around the balloon, while Cleveland watched. This all seems a bit tame so far, but don’t worry. It’s about to get much more intense.

The Battle

The Battle Fri, Oct 9, 1891 – 2 · The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) ·

A befuddled and exhausted Cleveland threw out his anchor and touched down on solid land. He walked along the nearby river until he found the bird—dead, as he suspected. Unfortunately for him, bald eagles are kind of a big deal in the United States and he was nearly fined for the crime of killing one. But, though the article doesn’t confirm, it seems likely that in this case the fine wasn’t enforced.

Find more odd and interesting stories like this one with a browse on

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New Papers from Massachusetts and Vermont!

Do you have ancestors from the New England area? We’re excited to announce that we’ve added new papers from Massachusetts and Vermont to our archives!

The Berkshire Eagle: Pittsfield, Massachusetts incorporated as a city in 1891, and we have issues of the Berkshire Eagle dating back to May 1892. The Berkshire Eagle chronicled the early growth of Pittsfield including the burgeoning business of electricity. William Stanley, the founder of the Electric Manufacturing Company, produced the first electric transformer and later sold his business to General Electric. The Berkshire Eagle also covered news from several nearby New York communities including New Lebanon, Stephentown, and Canaan. Pittsfield made national headlines in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage was hit by a trolley car resulting in the first death of Secret Service agent while on presidential protection detail.

North Adams Transcript: About 40 miles from Pittsfield is the city of North Adams, home to the North Adams Transcript. Our archives date back to 1895 and document, among other things, the history of the mill industry in North Adams. Thousands of citizens worked in the mills and manufacturing was a big part of the economy. The Transcript covered mill accidents, work disputes, and the changing economy as the mills closed down. If you had ancestors that lived in North Adams, the society pages are a great resource for community news including announcements for weddings, births, and events.  

Bennington Banner: Bennington, Vermont has a rich military history that dates back to Revolutionary War times when a local militia headed by Ethan Allen took part in the Battle of Bennington. The battle led to the success of the Revolution. The Bennington Banner was established in 1841 and our archives go back to 1842. In 1887, the Bennington Banner reported on the opening of the Vermont Bennington Soldiers’ Home. The home cared for veterans from throughout the state, so the paper’s archives are a great place to search for your veteran ancestors. If you had ancestors from communities outside of Bennington like Rupert, Pownal, or Shaftsbury, be sure to check the Bennington Banner’s Local Intelligence column.

Brattleboro Reformer: Established as a weekly Democratic alternative to Republican-dominated papers, the archives for the Brattleboro Reformer date back to 1884. The Reformer prided itself on local news and advertised that it had correspondents in every county. Check the archives for news updates from Rutland, Franklin, and other counties. Brattleboro is home to the Brattleboro Retreat, an asylum founded in 1834 to treat the mentally ill from across the state. The hospital operated under standards considered progressive at the time. Patients were well-treated with modern therapies, though they were still considered inmates and sometimes held against their will. Author Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous book Jungle Book in Brattleboro and proving that little boys are the same in every generation, the Reformer advocated for restricted sales of bean-blowers used by boys in Brattleboro to terrorize the girls! If you are searching for your ancestors from Brattleboro, be sure to search the Society Page.

Get started searching our updated archives for Massachusetts and Vermont today on!

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Forgotten U.S. History: The Sultana Disaster

Appalling Steamboat Disaster (Sultana)

Appalling Steamboat Disaster (Sultana) Sat, Apr 29, 1865 – 1 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) ·

In late April of 1865, the steamboat Sultana chugged up the Mississippi river with over 2000 passengers weighing down its decks. Most were Union prisoners returning home from camps like Cahaba and Andersonville, weak and happy to be heading home after a hard and bloody war.

Payment and Patch-Jobs

With thousands of Union prisoners needing a way home, the U.S. Government paid steamship captains several dollars a head for every soldier transported north. The Chief Quartermaster at Vicksburg, Missouri, suggested a deal to Captain James Cass Mason of the Sultana: he’d get Mason a full load of 1400 men in return for some of that sweet government cash. Mason agreed, but didn’t expect over 1900 soldiers to crowd every spare inch of space on a boat only meant to carry 376.

Meanwhile, a leaking boiler on board had been quickly patched to allow the steamer to take on the massive load of passengers. With decks sagging under the weight and the boiler crack ominously nailed together with a metal plate, the Sultana continued on its way.

Last known photo of Sultana and passengers

Last known photo of Sultana and passengers Fri, Oct 7, 1994 – 7 · The Daily News-Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) ·

Confluence of Consequence

At 2 am on April 27th, the leaking boiler exploded and took out two more boilers along with it. The blast tore the steamer apart just north of Memphis, Tennessee, and within twenty minutes the ship was burning to the water line. Those who survived the blast found themselves trapped on the fiery decks or thrown into the river. Those in the river either drowned, weakened from their injuries, or watched in horror as the ship burned with their friends still on board.

Details of the Sultana explosion

Details of the Sultana explosion Tue, May 9, 1865 – 1 · Buffalo Weekly Express (Buffalo, New York) ·

In all, around 1200 passengers perished. To this day it remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. But in the wake of events like the war ending and Lincoln’s assassination, this tragedy has been all but forgotten.

News of Sultana disaster overshadowed by other significant events

News of Sultana disaster overshadowed by other significant events Fri, Oct 7, 1994 – 7 · The Daily News-Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) ·

The Sultana disaster wasn’t as covered as other events at the time, but there’s more to find on Try a search for the steamship or Captain Mason for more about the incident and aftermath.

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How Do I Find an Obituary on

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

Why are obituaries important?

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be an obituary for my ancestor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Searching!

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

And get started finding your ancestors’ obituaries by searching!

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Potoooooooo’s Name

Have you ever heard of Potoooooooo, famous race horse of the 18th century? Though an excellent race horse and a significant sire, he is most remembered now for his unusual name. You may have noticed it.

The origin of his funny name has a couple of supposed explanations, but the most common is nicely wrapped up here:

The famous racehorse, Potoooooooo

The famous racehorse, Potoooooooo Fri, Jan 29, 1915 – 8 · The Washburn Leader (Washburn, North Dakota) ·

You can find many more articles about Potoooooooo on, though you may want to search a common alternate spelling, Pot-8-Os.

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Easter “Lifting”

As with most holidays, Easter comes with its share of unusual traditions. But while egg hunts and stealthy bunnies still remain mysteriously but firmly tied to this springtime celebration, some customs have fallen by the wayside. One of these is the 18th century English tradition of “lifting.”

“Lifting” was basically what it sounds like—on Easter Monday, men would lift women into the air on chairs or on clasped arms. On Tuesday the roles would reverse, with women lifting men. It seems the custom was to heave the chosen person into the air at least three times, after which they’d typically give you some money to leave them alone.

Below is an amusing clipping found in an 1880 paper that illustrates just how a lifting might go:


Easter “lifting” tradition Fri, Mar 26, 1880 – 1 · The Aegis & Intelligencer (Bel Air, Maryland) ·

The lifting tradition didn’t last much past the early 1800s, though there seem to be some attempts to revive it in recent years. What do you think—will “lifting” take off again?

Find more on Lifting and other Easter traditions, history, and stories from the past with a search on

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