Learn how to find more about your family history in old newspapers at Newspapers.com. In this video Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com joins me. She will share not only her 5 best search strategies, but also some amazing stories and items she’s found that will inspire you!
Limited time offer: use the code “genealogygems” at checkout at Newspapers.com to get 20% off today.
Vital records like birth, marriage and death records are critical for family history research. But newspapers can also provide the stories and the context that helps bring your ancestors experiences to life. Here’s my interview with Jenny Ashcraft from newspapers.com. (Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
Types of Information Found in Old Newspapers
Lisa: Newspapers can require a bit more effort to search than other genealogical records. Before we jump into your search strategies, why you think that newspapers are worth the effort?
Jenny: Newspapers really were the social media of their day. They were the number one source for news.
When the civil war started, people found out through the newspapers. When a huge 1859 solar storm hit planet earth, nobody had any idea why the sky was filled with colorful auroras so bright that the middle of the night turned bright as day, until they read the newspaper. And newspapers reported on local news, like who was visiting from out of town and who was on the sick list. They reported on tragic accidents and deaths and births and marriages and family reunions. Newspapers provide details about your family history. That for me brings such a sense of gratitude. I have learned things about my ancestors through newspapers.com that just amaze me. I stand in awe of the challenges they faced and each time I search, I’m reminded that I drink every day from a well that I did not dig.
Genealogy Gems Found in Newspapers
(2:00) Lisa: That’s so true. I bet you found a lot of gems in your job, which is probably just a dream job for most genealogists, working at newspapers.com. What kinds of things have you found?
Jenny: You’re right, it is kind of a dream job. It’s so fun. Let me share a quick personal story.
My third great grandfather and his brother immigrated to the United States in 1866. They were just 16 and 20 years old. As they were boarding their ship in Germany, the first ship became overcrowded, and hey ushered some of the passengers onto a second ship. In that chaos, these two brothers became separated and ended up on different ships. They would not see each other again for years.
Carl Fink arrived here in the United States alone at just 16 years old. He made his way to Illinois, where he eventually became a farmer. He got married, he had nine children, and I just learned a lot about his life through newspaper articles. He died in 1918. But I had never seen a photograph of him. I have searched newspapers.com, and I thought I had seen every available story about Karl Fink. But one day I came across a photograph, and it was printed in a 1966 paper, nearly 50 years after his death. The photo was originally taken in 1885, and it shows Carl Fink and his four oldest sons with their horses. It was published under a headline Sketches from Yesterday. Well, you can just imagine what an absolute thrill to find the only photograph that I have ever seen of this ancestor!
The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, 28 Mar 1966, Mon., Page 4
Lisa: That’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you must have been doing a genealogy happy dance all over your house!
Top Strategies for Searching at Newspapers.com
(4:02) You have whetted our appetites! I’d love to hear what some of your best strategies that you use when you’re doing your newspaper research.
Jenny: Well, I think the best thing to do is just start on the homepage. Type your ancestors name in the search box.
Tip #1: Search Name Variations
One thing you have to remember is to use the name as it would have appeared in the newspaper. If your ancestor was named, let’s say Charles Ellis Roper, he may be referred to as:
Try all kinds of variations until you find success.
Tip #2: Narrow Results by Location
Next, try to narrow your results by location. Did Charles live in South Carolina? You can narrow the results by the state, the county, the city, even a specific newspaper and you can also filter those results by dates.
Once you have found your ancestor, then the magic begins. The connections just start to flow. Back then families tended to stick together. So, you will often find relatives living nearby.
Tip #3: Search for Female Ancestors
Newspapers are a great way also do identify our female ancestors. As genealogist know, researching women can be hard! They were often referred to by their husband’s names, like in this particular clipping about Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. John Weamer.
But you know, through my research, I have learned that Mrs. Mary Mitchell is really my direct ancestor who was Mary Miller, she married James Mitchell. In this clipping we learned that she died in the home of her sister, Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that this is Martha Miller Weamer, my third great aunt.
Tip #4: Search the Obituary and Wedding Indexes
One of the most amazing ways to learn about our ancestors is through obituaries and wedding announcements. Using machine learning algorithms, Newspapers.com has developed a technology to identify 250 million obituaries, and 67 million marriage announcements in our archives. You may have seen hints for these on your ancestor trees. You can now go to Newspapers.com and search for all of your ancestors in either the obituary index, or the wedding index.
These records are full of wonderful family details and relationships. Let me just show you how this works.
For example, that newspaper clipping talked about Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that Mrs. John Weamer is my third great aunt, who was Martha Miller Weamer. So, I want to go to the obituary index and search for Martha.
To do that, I just typed in her name to see what I could find. I came up with 16,000 results. Now that’s going to take some time to go through. But one thing so cool is that we can click on the Result Type filter below the search box and click on Obituaries. Now I’m in the obituary index, and it looks like I got four results. In this case, the dates of the articles are all the same. I found four obituaries for my ancestor Martha Weamer!
Lisa: Fantastic. And can you also click on the map? Will that also narrow the location?
Jenny: Yes. When I first came up with those results for Martha Weamer there’s also a map of the United States. On the map, you will see that there’s different shades of pinks, and reds. This means that the lighter color states has articles mentioning Martha Weamer but maybe a fewer number. In this case there were five in Colorado, and nine in Wyoming. Well, Martha is from Pennsylvania. When I over hover Pennsylvania it tells me that there are 5000 mentions of Martha Weamer. So that state of Pennsylvania has been highlighted as red to show you that there’s a concentration of her name found in newspapers in Pennsylvania.
Lisa: That’s really handy. And it’s also handy if by chance she was from another state originally or had a lot of family in another state because then you there’s a possibility that her obituary could be shared in a newspaper from her previous hometown.
Jenny: That happened all the time. And as a matter of fact, on this woman, Martha Weamer, she actually moved from Pennsylvania to Idaho. And when she died, these obituaries were printed in the Pennsylvania paper where she came from and not in the Idaho papers.
Tip #5: Search for Emigration Details
(9:41) Lisa: One of the things that folks often have trouble with is passenger lists immigration information. Newspapers could be a source for that too, could it not?
Jenny: Absolutely! Newspapers is a great source for that. You know before air travel became more common in the 1950s, ships were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. And one of the most important records we know for tracking our immigrant ancestor is a passenger list. Well, passenger lists include things like the name, their origin, where the voyage originated, a passenger’s birth date, departure date, and arrival date. What is so cool is that you can take those details that you find on a passenger list over to Newspapers.com and learn all types of insights about their journey.
For example, what if you wanted to know Why did my ancestor emigrate? What caused them to come? Well, a search of newspapers might provide insights into events that led to your ancestor’s emigration. For example, if you look in our Irish newspapers, in the 1840s, you’re going to find heartbreaking stories about the potato famine. I found a clipping reporting in a specific parish the number of deaths in that parish. It says, “number of seen to be known to be occasioned by the famine, about 200. And several instances have occurred in this parish, where almost all the members of families being carried off from the effects of the famine.” So, this can help you understand why your ancestor may have chosen to emigrate to begin with.
Lisa: Absolutely! I’ve even had success using the name of the ship and searching for that. The article may not mention my ancestor specifically, but I could find information potentially, about the voyage.
Jenny: You absolutely can. I also love when I have the name of the ship, which is on the passenger list, and I can take that information and the coordinating dates, and start searching for that ship. What was the voyage like? Were there rough seas? Did people die during the journey? Newspapers would often report on conditions of the passage, illness on the ship, weather, and deaths.
Occasionally, we might even find dramatic stories. One of them that comes to mind was the Ocean Monarch. The Ocean Monarch was an immigrant ship that departed from Liverpool in 1848 bound for Boston. During the journey a fire broke out on the ship, and it just started to engulf the ship. The passengers jumped into the ocean, and 180 of them perished. The newspapers are just filled with dramatic survivor accounts. And some of them just broke my heart. I remember reading one about a mother who was clinging to her little baby, hanging onto some debris, as the ship is burning beside her. A wave crested over and she lost grip of the baby and lost the baby into the waves. Talk about bringing a story to life! If this is your ancestor, you can kind of get an understanding of what their experiences were during that voyage.
Lisa: Amazing. Newspapers really are one-of-a-kind sorts of records, aren’t they?
Jenny: They really are because you’re not going to find those kinds of details in a passenger list. They are not going to have interviews with somebody that just landed on the shores, or they’re not going to describe a joyful reunion between a brother and sister. I just read an immigration article just the other day where a brother and a sister reunited in New Orleans. They hadn’t seen each other for 12 years! It describes this joyful reunion and they didn’t recognize each other because it had been so long. These are just wonderful, rich stories that can really help you put together your ancestor’s story.
Lisa: And we could find newspaper articles at the port of arrival as well, couldn’t we?
Jenny: Oh, that is such a great tip. Let’s just think of an example here. If you had an ancestor that arrived in New York City in August of 1906, and you went to the New York papers, you will learn that the city was experiencing a terrible heatwave. It was like 106 degrees. And the New York Tribune reported that there were ships that arrived at Ellis Island. They arrived on a Sunday and Ellis Island port of arrival was closed. So, the passengers had to wait in the sweltering holds of the ship and wait for Ellis Island to open. The paper reported that by the time that Ellis Island reopened the following day, these mothers and children were disembarking and coming out of the holes of the ship and collapsing in the heat. Now, if this is your ancestor, you suddenly have this whole story and narrative. You connect, and you realize the sacrifices and what these immigrant ancestors endured to come and emigrate, and now we stand on their shoulders.
New-York Tribune New York, New York, 07 Aug 1906, Tue • Page 2
(15:54)Lisa: You’re right, where else would you hear that!
Well, I know that you write for Newspapers.com and you help people use the website and learn more about these kinds of stories. Where can folks find you?
Jenny: You can check out our blog, which is called Fish Wrap. If you Google fish wrap, you will find our blog. We try to fill that blog with amazing tips and stories, and things that would be interesting for people who are learning to use newspapers or experienced newspaper users.
Lisa: And everybody can become an experienced newspaper user because you guys have a free trial, is that right? So, they can just go in and sign up for an account and use it for seven days for free?
Jenny: Absolutely. You can sign up for a seven day trial. Check it out, see if you can find your ancestor. See if you can locate some of those gems that will help you break through those genealogical roadblocks. This is a great way to enrich the story that you’re trying to tell with your vital records.
Learn More about Using Newspapers.com with Lisa
I hope that whetted your appetite for using old newspapers for finding your family history. The next step is to join me for a special deep dive into using the website. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can join me for a special live show, which includes the live chat, on February 3, 2022 at 11:00 am CT. It will be followed up by a video replay that members can watch on demand. Look for more details in our next newsletter.
If you’re not a premium member yet, oh my gosh, what are you waiting for? I hope you’ll join us. Just click here to learn more about what we have to offer. It is a full year’s access to all the premium content.
Finding a birth father using DNA is possible but can be hit-or-miss with DNA alone. Read this story about how the experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists combined DNA testing results with historical research and family knowledge to help one woman find the...
More and more people are blogging about their family history. Here’s why!
When it comes right down to it, many of us want to write up our family stories, but we don’t really want to write or publish a 300-page book. Blogging your family history in short snippets is a perfect alternative! Why?
1. Its shorter, flexible format is much less intimidating for many people. You don’t have to lay out a book or fill hundreds of pages. You can write a little bit at a time, as your time and mood permit.
2. A blog is like your own family history message board. Every word you write is searchable by Google–which means others researching the same family lines can find and connect with you.
3. A family history blog can help bust your toughest brick wall. I’ve heard and shared countless stories here at Genealogy Gems from readers and listeners of how just “putting it out there” on a blog led to someone contacting them with a treasure trove of new information about their family tree.
4. Writing a narrative about your research will help you identify gaps in your research. Sometimes errors or bad assumptions you made will jump out at you.
5. Your kids and grandkids are (or will be) online. They will more likely want to read quick and easy stories on the go on their smart phones and tablets. Putting your research out there on a blog provides them with an easy way to digest the family heritage and subscribe to it, since blogs can be delivered to their email inbox or to a blog reader.
6. Because there are no excuses. You can start a blog for free. There are no rules, so you can decide how often and how much you write at once.
7. If you leave the blog online, it will still be there even when you’re not actively blogging. You will continue to share–and you may continue to attract relatives to it.
Start a family history blog with this free series from our Family History Made Easy podcast (an online radio show)
Part 1: What to Consider when Starting a Genealogy Blog. The “Footnote Maven,”author of two popular blogs, talks about the process of starting a genealogy blog. She gives great tips for thinking up your own approach, finding a unique niche, commenting on other people’s blogs and more.
Part 3: Step by Step on Blogger.com. How to create your own free family history blog on Blogger.com. Learn tricks for designing a simple, useful blog and how NOT to overdo it!
Final tips:Wrap-up and inspiration. In this concluding episode, learn how to add a few more gadgets and details to your blog; pre-plan your blog posts, publish your first article, and how to help your readers subscribe. You’ll also get great tips on how to create genealogy content that others looking for the same ancestors can find easily online.
SHARE! Invite someone you know to start a family history blog by sending them this post. They’ll thank you for it later!
This week, I’m researching at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has one of the best public library genealogy collections in the United States. They’ve got more than half a million items on microfilm and fiche and 350,000 more in print. Among these items are nearly 50,00o city directories; 55,000 compiled family histories; most National Archives microfilmed military service and pension records….Okay, I’ll stop before you get jealous.
But in fact, MOST public libraries have some good genealogy resources. Have you checked out the library near you lately? OR the local history and genealogy collection in a public library near where your ancestors lived? You may likely find these 5 great resources:
Access to paid subscription genealogy websites like Ancestry.com Library Edition, HeritageQuest Online, Fold3 and other genealogy databases.
Local historical newspapers–or at least obituaries from them. ALSO access to historical newspaper websites like GenealogyBank.com which may have papers you’ll never travel to see in person.
City directories, old maps and/or local histories for that town.
Surname files. These aren’t at every public library, but you’ll often find them in libraries that have dedicated genealogy rooms. These likely won’t be neatly organized files with perfect family trees in them, but collections of documents, bibliographic references and correspondence relating to anyone with that surname.
Other surprising local history resources. For example, my hometown library in Euclid, Ohio, has online collections of Euclid newspapers, history, yearbooks and oral histories!
What does your library have? Browse its website or call and ask about its local history and genealogy collections. You might even Google the name of the county with the phrases “public library” and “local history” or “genealogy.” Another branch of the same library system (not in your own or ancestor’s town but nearby) might have just what you need to find your family history!
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Want to learn more about doing genealogy at the public library? Check out two recently republished episodes of Lisa’s Family History Made Easy podcast:
Episode 34: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 1Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik talks to us about researching at public libraries. She shares what kinds of things may be at the library (including unique resources), how to prepare for a visit and lots of great tips for making the most of your research time there.
Episode 35: Do Your Genealogy at the Public Library, Part 2We go deeper into genealogy research at the public library. Genealogy librarian Patricia VanSkaik is back to talk about how to search an online library card catalog including advanced search methods, the unique collections that may be at public libraries, how to ask for exactly what we want, and the obstacles librarians face when it comes to cataloguing large and unique collections that may interest genealogists.
The Genealogy Center: Elevenses with Lisa Episode 31
If you’re looking for a wide array of free online genealogical records for your family history, look no further than then Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s the second largest genealogy library in the country. In addition to the in-house collection, the Genealogy Center offers a vast amount of free digitized resources through their website and partnerships with other websites.
I invited Allison Singleton, Senior Librarian at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana to the show. She is taking us on our tour of the website and sharing her tips and strategies for finding genealogy gems. Watch the video and follow along the highlights with the show notes below:
What is the Genealogy Center?
The Genealogy Center has one of the largest genealogy research collections available, incorporating records from around the world. The staff specializes in genealogy and is always available to help. Visit the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne Indiana.
There’s a lot to explore at the Genealogy Center website. Let’s start with the top-level menu on the Home page. Here we’ll find links to important resources such as:
Let’s take a closer look to a few in addition to other free resources available through the large colored buttons on the home page.
The Genealogy Community is the place to ask questions, sign up for their e-newsletter, and follow them on social media. They are extremely active on Facebook. You can also learn more about and get in touch with the staff of seasoned family history librarians.
PathFinders is a great place to start your family history search. It provides very small snapshots of what the Genealogy Center has in their collection for any given location or topic. Snapshot categories include:
Click on the logo from any page to return to the website’s Home page.
Free Databases at the Genealogy Center Website
The Genealogy Center does not interlibrary loan materials. Their collection is reference only. The website is the perfect place to plan your next visit. That being said, much of their invaluable collection has and is being scanned by Internet Archive and FamilySearch. If it is out of copyright, they work to get it online. So there’s plenty to find from the comfort of your own home.
You can find their Free Databases by clicking Resources on the home page and then Free Databases. These are all searchable and include digitized images that can be viewed from home.
In the Free Databases section you’ll find gateways to other specific areas including African-American and Native American. These provide an excellent place to start your research.
Free databases at the genealogy center
Family Bibles at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Family Bibles The Genealogy Center actively collects scans of family bible records pages.
Learn more about researching family Bibles for family history in Elevenses with Lisaepisode 29.
Watch episode 29 of Elevenses with Lisa to learn how to find and analyze your family bible for genealogy
You can donate more than just money to the Genealogy Center. They are also looking for research donations. Donating is a great way to make your genealogy research materials easily accessible to your family and other researchers. You’ll find Donations in the main menu on the Home page.
Donated digitized materials are freely available online on their website.
They are actively digitize records.
You can even bring your materials into the library and they will digitize them. You can then keep the originals.
You can also send in your own digitized scans.
Military Records at the Genealogy Center Website
Navigation: Our Resources > Free Databases > Our Military Heritage They are actively collecting military information for inclusion in their collection. The collection includes many unique items donated by other family historians.
Copyright and Usage
The materials on their website are under copyright. You can view one page at a time. However, you can copy and print like you would if you were visiting the library. Include a source citation including the donor name. If in doubt about usage, contact the Genealogy Center.
Searching for Genealogy Center Content
The website is new (in 2020) so Google may not pick up everything in search. Use the website search field to search the entire collection.
Allison’s Catalog Search Tips:
When search the Allen County Public Library catalog, don’t use common words such as county and city.
Also, don’t use the plural form of words. For example, use directory not directories.
After running the search, on the left side of the page under “I only want” filter your results to only the Genealogy Center by clicking Branch and then
If an item is digitized, you will see a Web Link under More Info.
Lisa’s Search Tip: Use Control + F (PC) or Command +F (Mac) to quickly find words in a long list on a results page.
On-Site Databases at the Genealogy Center
You can only access on-site databases while in the library. No library card is required. The library does not offer an online subscription service.
Getting Help Online for Offline Resources
Navigation: On the homepage click Genealogy Community > Ask a Librarian. Here you can send brief questions and requests.
Family History Archives
Navigation: Click Family History Archives on the Home page and you’ll find links to other websites hosting Genealogy Center digitized content. Partners include:
FamilySearch (Public Access)
The Internet Archive (over 110,000 items)
Over 110,000 Free records at the Internet Archive from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
City Directories at the Genealogy Center
City Directories are a wonderful way to fill in information between census years. The Genealogy Center has the largest collection of city directories in the country. They are in both book form and microfilm.
The city directory collection cover across North American and even includes some international directories.
Compiled Family Histories at the Genealogy Center
Compiled family histories help you stand on the shoulders of other accomplished researchers. They have approximately 70,000 physical books. There are also family histories digitized and on the website. Search for the surname and include the word family. On the results page, filter down to Branch > Genealogy.
Free Consultations and Paid Professional Services
Navigation: Home > Our Services > Consultations. The Genealogy Center offers free (yes, you read that right!) 30-minute consultations with a Genealogy Center librarian. Consultations are held by Zoom, phone or email. You don’t even have to be a library card holder! Prepare well to get the most from your consultation.
You can also hire staff at the Genealogy Center to do more extensive research for you. Another option is to request a list of local professional researchers. Visit Our Services > Forms > Research Form
PERiodical Source Index (PERSI)
Navigation: Home > Our Resources > Onsite Databases > PERiodical Source Index (PERSI) PERSI offers a very wide range of periodicals, some of which are very unique and niche. The PERSI index is hosted by Findmpast. Search the index for free from home at Findmypast. Some of the items require a subscription.
Allison provided some excellent insider strategies for searching PERSI:
Articles are indexed by title.
Don’t search by keyword or “Who”.
Most people aren’t named in the article titles. Focus on location.
You can order the articles from the Genealogy Center. $7.50 for each form which includes up to six articles. Go to Our Services > Forms > Article Fulfillment.
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