In 2018, Elizabeth Bell, a member of our Newspapers.com™ team, made a surprising discovery about her family history. She received the results of her Ancestry® DNA test and found that 8% of her DNA originated from the African continent. Liz’s family history had always been a bit of a mystery, and the DNA findings spurred Liz and her daughter Kaylie Watkins to learn more.
The duo started on a quest, and it didn’t take long to find answers. They discovered another member’s family tree on Ancestry® that included Liz’s great-grandmother. While working backward on the tree, they found that Liz’s 2nd great-grandfather, listed as William Jenkins, was a Black man. Liz’s late father was also named William Jenkins, but he had never revealed much about his ancestors.
Surprised at this new discovery, Liz searched Newspapers.com™ to learn more. She found just one newspaper article. It revealed that Jenkins was born in Virginia in 1814, and he was born a free man. Assuming she’d exhausted her search results, Liz placed this quest on the back burner.
Recently, Liz mentioned this story to Newspapers.com™ team members. They were sure there was more to find. Within 20 minutes, the team located dozens of stories that shed new light on the Jenkins family. Liz was stunned! “How did you find these,” she asked.
We thought we’d share some strategies we used to take Liz’s newspaper search to the next level. We hope some of these ideas might help you uncover hidden leaves in your family tree.
We performed dozens of searches using a variety of terms. Here are some of the search terms that yielded results:
- “William Jenkins”
- “William Jenkins” and “free papers”
- “Jenkins” and “Michigan”
- “Jenkins” and “Dowagiac” (Dowagiac was Jenkin’s hometown)
- “Jenkins” and “former slave”
- “Jenkins” and “born a free man”
- “Jenkins” and “free man”
- “William Jenkins” and “freed man”
Search for Children, Grandchildren, and other Descendants
William Jenkins died in 1898, but in 1964, a Michigan paper interviewed Jenkin’s daughter, Lulu. This clipping contains a priceless photograph of Lulu holding her father’s free papers. He kept them in his pocket his whole life. We also found Lulu’s marriage announcement, an article about her 98th birthday, and a subsequent obituary. We used the same type of searches that we initially used for William to search for each of his children in the papers. These provided more names to add to our tree and more pieces to the Jenkins family puzzle.
Don’t Limit Your Search Dates or Places
Nearly 100 years after the death of William Jenkins, we discovered this astounding article in an Indiana newspaper. It was an interview with William’s great-granddaughter, Doris B. Wilson. Doris was interested in genealogy and hired a local artist to paint a tree mural on her wall. She then meticulously researched nearly 100 descendants of William Jenkins and added their photographs to her family tree painting. She was also the latest keeper of Jenkin’s original free papers. In addition, she reported that William died in Dowagiac in 1898. Most trees on Ancestry showed William died in Philadelphia in 1900 – another piece to the puzzle. At the end of this article, it said that the Jenkins family had held an annual family reunion in Cassopolis, Michigan, each year since 1901! We were excited to track down Doris but discovered she died in 2008. Her obituary mentioned her sister Gladys Weatherspoon. We searched for Gladys, but sadly she had also passed away. Both obituaries, however, named family members and provided clues for more research.
Think Beyond Birth Announcements, Wedding Announcements, and Obituaries
We didn’t find a birth announcement, marriage announcement, or obituary for William. If you run up against a similar problem in your research, extend your search to include other family members. A sibling, child’s, or grandchild’s obituary or wedding announcement might provide a clue to break through a genealogical brick wall. Also, consider other articles that might mention your ancestor. Did the newspaper publish a town history? An article celebrating the anniversary of a church where your ancestor attended? A notice about a family reunion? Consider flipping through the pages of the local paper to learn more about what was happening in the community. Even if your ancestor is not listed by name, the pages of the paper provide context to your story.
Expand and Narrow Filters
Since William Jenkins was born in Virginia, we started our newspaper search there. When that search didn’t yield results, we expanded our search to include Ohio and Michigan – two other states where he lived. We alternated back and forth between dates and search terms in each of these searches. Ironically, the newspaper stories that revealed the most information about William Jenkins were in Indiana papers, where some of his descendants settled. Don’t be afraid to search outside places you know your ancestor lived. We’ve found informative articles about people who were just visiting from out of town.
Think Abbreviations and Nicknames
If your initial searches don’t reveal results, try some abbreviations. For example, we might find William Jenkins in the paper as Wm. Jenkins, or W.A. Jenkins, or W. Jenkins. Some common abbreviations we’ve seen are Chas. (Charles), Jas. (James), Jno. (John or Jonathon), Archd (Archibald), Abm. (Abraham), etc. Newspapers often used nicknames too. Elizabeth might be Lizzie, Mattie for Martha, Fanny for Frances, Molly for Mary, etc.
We hope these tips will help you take your search to the next level on Newspapers.com™. Give it a try, and share your results and additional tips in the comments below.