Finding Family History in WWII Newspapers: Narrowing the Results

Newspapers can fill in the gaps to the long-lost stories of your ancestors. These tips will help you narrow your search in digitized WWII newspapers for experiences directly relating to the war and to the lives of your ancestors.

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In this previous post, I provided step-by-step tips for locating WWII-era newspapers. Those tips helped you locate the actual newspapers. In this post, I’ve got 7 tips for to help you focus on narrowing down a large list of results in search of war-related family stories.

Tip 1: Try Various Name Combinations in WWII Newpapers

If you are keyword searching in digitized newspapers, remember to try different name combinations. A man may be identified by just his first initial and last name. During the 1940s, a woman might be referred to as “Mrs. Ted Johnson” instead of Barbara Johnson.

Tip 2: Search for Addresses

You might find a family identified as “the Johnson’s of 132 Cherry Lane,” so try using street addresses in your searches, remembering that “Lane” might be spelled out or abbreviated. You may also find the family listed by their town or township. An example of this might be “the Johnson’s of Brown township,” or “the Johnson’s of Conover.”

Tip 3: Expand Your Search to Events and Organizations

Use any search terms you already know about for your family in World War II: a military unit, a battle or local service organization, or a war effort project that the folks back home may have helped out with. Do family stories mention rationing, air raid drills, bomb shelters, blackout rules, or one of the women getting a job at a certain factory? All these make excellent search terms.

Tip 4: Take Time to Browse

Browsing the pages will give you a sense of how the war affected everyday life at home. You may find recipes that make the most of ration allowances and reminders about blackout rules and curfews. You may even find tips on how to conserve gasoline or how to be fashionable without silk stockings!

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It's easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues).

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It’s easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues.)

Tip 5: Be Aware of Newspaper Stoppages

If your family lived in an area that came under attack or was occupied, the local newspapers may have stopped printing. In that case, search other papers to see if they reported what was going on in your ancestor’s town.

Tip 6: Keep an Eye on the Homefront

For relatives who served in the military, watch for updates in local papers about how they were faring on the fronts during the war. Watch for casualty lists of the wounded, dead, and missing. Here’s something cool: newspapers also printed maps showing the progress of the war on the various fronts.

Tip 7: History Provides Hints

If you’re looking for reports about soldiers’ bodies returning home and funeral services, it will help to know that according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the War Department didn’t start bringing back remains until the fall of 1947 because of the huge logistical challenges involved. Over 93,000 American soldiers who died in World War II are buried overseas in one of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries.

Making the Most of Newspapers for Family History

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersFind more tips like these in my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for my foolproof research process, along with everything you need for success: worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources (and websites worth paying a few bucks for), a massive amount of location-specific websites (U.S. and international)–and a case study that puts it all to the test!

West Virginia Genealogy Research and Working with Changing County Boundaries

As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!

West Virginia genealogy research

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.

County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.

But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:

I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?

Birth Records in the 1800s

The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. [1]

Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)

West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level

Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.

There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries

I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!

  • 1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
  • 1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
  • 1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
  • 1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
  • 1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
  • 1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
  • 1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier

As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.

Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)

There is also a free guide at Family Tree Magazine for West Virginia genealogy research that we highly recommend.

More on Advanced Research Strategies

Creating a FAN club tipsChanging county boundaries is just one area that must be mastered to ensure accurate genealogy research. Here are 3 more articles that will help you beef up your genealogy research skills:

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Missing Census or Missing Family: Legacy Tree Genealogists Answer

Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy

ARTICLE REFERENCES

[1] Johni Cerny, “Births and Deaths in Public Records,” originally written in “The Source: A Genealogist’s Guidebook to American Genealogy,” online article, Ancestry Wiki, accessed 20 Feb 2017.

The First Daily Newspaper in the US Wasn’t Exactly Objective

historical newspapers

A selection of American newspapers from 1885, with portraits of their publishers. Original image at the Library of Congress, no known restrictions. Digital image from Wikipedia (click to view).

The first daily newspaper in the US, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, appeared in Philadelphia on this day in 1783. It was short-lived as a daily, but gained traction as a semi-regular paper by 1775. How did publisher Benjamin Towne make it work? By not having a lick of journalistic objectivity, apparently.

“Towne was able to survive through the War for Independence by supporting the side in power,” says this post at FamousDaily.com. “In 1775 his Evening Post was vocal in opposition to the British; but when Philadelphia was occupied briefly by the British troops, Towne welcomed them with open arms. Then when the Patriots took back the city, Towne published a special ‘patriotic’ edition of his paper in honor of their return.”

What a great story! His success heralded more to come. According to a post at the U.S. Census website, “Americans’ hunger for news was such that by 1850, there were some 250 dailies. The number of newspapers peaked around a hundred years ago, when there were 2,600 dailies published across the nation, with a circulation of over 24 million.”

Available at http://genealogygems.com

Newspapers are one of the best places to learn more about our ancestors’ everyday lives, their vital events and happenings that affected them. Learn more in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Here you’ll find inspiring stories about what’s IN newspapers, step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free and worth-a-few bucks online resources, and a massive amount of location-specific websites for international and U.S. historical newspapers.

 

 

Getting the scoop from old newspapersWould you rather learn by watching? Genealogy Gems Premium members and subscribing genealogy societies can enjoy Lisa’s two-part video series, “Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers.”  You’ll learn what key family history information may be found in historical newspapers; how to identify newspapers that likely covered your ancestors; websites that have digitized collections of newspapers; Lisa’s top search tips and cool tech tools; how to use Evernote in your newspaper research; and more about African-American Newspaper Research (bonus download!). Genealogy Gems for Societies Video Classes

Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership, and (NEW!) click here to see how your genealogy society can watch these and other Premium videos at their meetings!

 

English Parish Boundaries: A Little-Known Online Tool

Did you know that FamilySearch has an interactive map to help you find English parish boundaries in 1851?

Daniel Poffenberger, who works at the British desk at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, showed me this map gem. He says this map was about 7 years in the making!

English parish map from FamilySearch.org.

English parish boundaries: map on FamilySearch.org.

Before you click through to the map, you should know:

  • Use the main Search interface to search by a specific location.
  • Click on layers to indicate whether you want the map to show you boundaries to parishes, counties, civil registration districts, dioceses and more.
  • Click and drag the map itself to explore it.
  • Wales is also included here but the Welsh data doesn’t appear to be entirely complete (try it anyway–it might have what you need).
  • The map isn’t yet permanently operational. It does go down sometimes, possibly because they’re still working on it.  It doesn’t print easily. It’s suggested that if you want to print, you hit “Ctrl-Print Screen” and then paste it into Word or another program that accepts images.

Click here to see the FamilySearch England & Wales 1851 Parish map.

Genealogy Video

Want to learn more about using maps? Premium members can check out my video, 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps.” Not a Premium member yet? Click here to learn more.

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