March 24, 2017

A Shocking Family Secret–and 3 Powerful Newspaper Search Tips

family secrets in newspaper search tipsA shocking discovery in my husband’s family history was made with the help of three powerful strategies for finding ancestors in online newspaper articles.

Ever since I first started researching the family of Raymond Harry Cooke, I have been aware that Raymond’s mother, Mary Ann Susannah Cooke, died at a young age, around 40 years old. What I didn’t realize was how she died.

The only known image of Mary Ann Susannah Cooke nee Munns

I knew Mary Ann lost one child in child birth, and in 1908 had one living child, Raymond. Though the answer as to her exact date and cause of death have been elusive, I haven’t been in a big hurry to find the answer, because I guess deep down I assumed that she had lost her life in a third pregnancy. So it remained one of those genealogy projects I put off for a rainy day.

Well, a “rainy day” finally came. After blogging about the BritishNewspaperArchive, I decided to do some digging to see if I could find anything about Mary Ann’s death in Tunbridge Wells, England circa 1908. With the site’s powerful advanced search engine I located the answer within minutes. And it was devastating.

cookeThe Courier, August 31, 1908: “Tunbridge Wells Woman Sad Death: Drowned in a Water Tank.”

Suffering from prolonged depression, Mary Ann had drowned herself upstairs in their home’s water tank. The newspaper provided a blow-by-blow of the coroner’s inquest, and the heart-breaking testimony of her husband, Harry. And there came the final shock: Harry and Mary Ann’s 14 year old son Raymond had discovered the body.

After absorbing the story of Mary Ann’s untimely death, I was keen to see if I could learn more. And here’s where some very powerful search strategies came into play and helped me find MUCH more in the British Newspaper Archive.

3 Newspaper Search Tips

1. Look for “Search” Clues in the Articles You Find

I went back through the article with a fine tooth comb, making note of every unique details that could possibly be used in a future database search such as addresses, name variations, neighbors, friends, occupations, etc. I then headed back to the British Newspaper Archive to search on those leads.

2. Look Beyond Known Names

In my case, I noticed that Mary Ann Cooke was referred to as “Mrs. Cooke” in one article, and “Mrs. Cook” in another, so I omitted her first name and ran searches under both options, resulting in even more articles. And in the article about “Mrs. Cooke”, her son Raymond was referred to as “Master Cooke.” Indeed, even more articles existed under that name as well.

3. Go Beyond People

Search for the addresses of locations where they lived. And don’t necessarily include their name. Simply searching the address can give you a kind of “house history” set of search results, revealing who lived there before, descriptions of the home and its contents and who moved in after your ancestors left.

In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home (by the address) being up for sale several years before they owned it. That article included a fairly detailed description of the property. The final article found in the British newspapers was also found only by address (as the Cooke name wasn’t mentioned) and it detailed the contents of their household up for sale. The auction was held in preparation for their move to Canada.

Listen to this story and these newspaper search tips in a lot more detail in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #174.

More Resources from Genealogy Gems:

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

5 Most Popular Historical Newspaper Searches–and How to Improve Yours

Can Google Help Me Search Digitized Newspaper Pages?

Premium Videos: Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers and Getting the Scoop Part 2: Tech Tools for Newspapers (available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members)

figure_talk_giant_phone_anim_300_wht_6767Did my tips help you find your ancestors in old newspapers? Contact me by email or phone or on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. I love hearing about YOUR successes!

About Lisa

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show at www.GenealogyGems.com. She is the author of the books Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies and The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, and the Google Earth for Genealogy DVD series, an international conference speaker, and writer for Family Tree Magazine.