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.
Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures, and some of them you’ll never find from a search box.
Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding those treasures, and helpful reminders for improving your genealogy research.
(We provide links for your convenience to the various online resources and some may be affiliate links for which we receive compensation at no additional expense to you. Thank you for your support.)
Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history.
Ancestry is also a financial investment. If you’ve been using the site for quite a while, you may be wondering if you are really getting all you can out of it’s vast genealogical record collections and many research tools.
Nancy Henrickson, author of the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook
4 Tips for Using Ancestry.com More Effectively
1. Verify what you learn.
Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread by you or by the person how indexed it. Double check the assertions made in the record by looking for that same information in additional sources. Be careful to make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!
Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you do want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path.
The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information such as:
a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity,
or a burial place.
For example, let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. While it’s a great source, don’t stop there!
Like any record, the SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Card Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place. You’ll find the CardCatalog under Search in the main menu.
Ancestry Card Catalog
Use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.
Using the Card Catalog search filters
2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.
Seeing the same information over and over can provide a false sense of accuracy. Remember, just because seven different online trees name the same parents for one of your ancestors doesn’t mean those are the correct parents. Those Ancestry users may all be misquoting the same wrong source without actually verifying the information!
You often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, it’s simply an indication that the tree may be worth exploring. Here’s an example:
Exploring Ancestry Hints
Let’s take a closer look at this example.
The purple arrows: You can see that multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.
The red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail image. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes, you will definitely want to review that news article!
The blue arrow:In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.
This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. But then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree.
Instead, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:
Select the tree to review it more closely.
Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor – you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.
3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.
Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. For example, looking at the old maps in their collections can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. And your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.”
Here are some of Nancy’s favorite collections at Ancestry:
This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection
In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.”
Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.
A collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps.
Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry
Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures.
Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.
4. Expand your search to the other Ancestry resources on the Web
Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too!
Nancy says, “They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around. Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”
Find A Grave
Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives. As always, be sure to confirm the information you find here.
Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.
RootsWeb is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry.
“The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” You can use RootsWeb in a variety of ways: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.
Ancestry has changed one of the ways RootsWeb users have traditionally connected: Mailing Lists. According to the website:
“Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails. Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state. Administrators may save the email addresses in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb. As an alternative to RootsWeb Mailing Lists, Ancestry message boards are a great option to network with others in the genealogy community. Message boards are available for free with an Ancestry registered account.”
Learn More about Using Ancestry
Nancy Hendrickson’s Book
Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. To get the most out of this book read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog. Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records, so choose a chapter that fits your current goals. It’s also important to not just read the workbook, but also do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research. Don’t miss the chapter on social history. That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life. And finally, take advantage of the forms that are included. They will help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.
Here at Genealogy Gems we love using Google for genealogy. Today we have another exciting Google resource that can transform how you share your genealogy with your family – because ultimately, genealogy is all about sharing your family’s story!
While the mobile device era has made communication and sharing easy and instant, sometimes it’s hard to really see the ‘big picture’ on our tiny screens. And crowding around the computer monitor isn’t much better. Chromecast by Google is a tool that allows you to stream content from your mobile devices and computers directly onto your TV!
You can share slideshows, photos, videos, and more while everyone is seated comfortably in the living room. If you are looking for an easy and inviting way for your family to enjoy all the hard work you put into constructing the family tree, Chromecast is for you. The Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player currently sells for $35 and takes a mere 5 to 10 minutes to set up.
Even though I’m Lisa’s daughter, I am not a techie person at all, so if I can do it in just a few minutes without help, you can too!
How to Use Chromecast
After you’ve completed the initial set up, simply open the app you want to stream (YouTube, for example) and tap the Chromecast icon. Streaming is now enabled. (Chromecast primarily works over wifi, but Google recently announced that Ethernet cables are now available as an alternative.)
While streaming, you control the app functions on your mobile device or computer. For example, if you’re streaming a movie from the Netflix app on your iPad, you would play, pause, and make your selections directly on your iPad. If you want to switch back to viewing on your mobile device (or simply stop streaming), tap the Chromecast icon again.
Dozens of photo and video apps are compatible with Chromecast and all are listed on their website. Here are a few that I think genealogists will really enjoy, and they’re all available on both The App Store and Google Play:
When you open the app, you can view all the photos and videos (including TV shows or movies you may have purchased) on your device. You can also create slideshows by picking individual photos or entire albums and adding songs from your music library. Then tap the Chromecast icon to instantly stream to your TV. It has four viewing modes available. Photo streaming has very little lag, but video streaming could take a little longer to load, depending on your wifi speeds. Multiple devices can stream to the same TV, and slideshows can continue to play on the TV while you use your mobile device for other tasks.
Google Slides Free
Google Slides is an ideal tool for Chromecast because it is linked directly to your Google account. I recommend using Google Slides from your laptop or desktop because you can pull pictures from your hard drive (or anywhere – you’re not limited only to the pictures on your mobile device). And personally I find I can work much more efficiently with a full mouse and keyboard for this kind of project. You can create a wonderfully detailed and multi-media slide show or presentation. Then, download the app to your mobile device and your presentations will be accessible there as well. I find streaming from your tablet works a little better than streaming from your computer, but you can still stream from a computer as long as it’s connected to wifi and is close enough to the TV to detect Chromecast.
YouTube Free Chromecast offers you an easy and convenient way to watch videos from our Genealogy Gems YouTube channel and other favorites on your TV! Open the YouTube app and tap the Chromecast icon. Browse videos as usual. When you select one to watch, it will stream to your TV with no loss of video or audio quality. You can also create a TV queue, specifically for videos you want to watch on the big screen. Tap on a video and a pop-up will ask to either play it or add it to your TV queue. The best part? YouTube will continue to play your video on your TV even if you minimize the app on your device to do other tasks. Before you finish your viewing session, be sure to tap the Subscribe button at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll have easy access to all current and new videos.
Streaming from your desktop browser is another great feature. Anything you are viewing on your browser (videos, audio, website content, etc.) can be projected to your TV. You will need the current version of the Chrome web browser, as well as the Chromecast extension installed. In my personal experience I found streaming video from my browser to be a bit slow and choppy, but results may vary based on browser settings and wifi speeds. It’s worth a try, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this technology continues to evolve and improve.
TIP:How to Update Chrome
Normally, Chrome updates automatically in the background when you open and close your browser. But here’s how to check if you have the most current version of Chrome:
Open Google Chrome.
In the top right, click the Chrome menu
Click About Google Chrome.
The current version number is the series of numbers beneath the “Google Chrome” heading. Chrome will check for updates when you’re on this page.
Click Relaunch to apply any available update.
Another cool thing about Chromecast:
Once you have Chromecast set up, your devices will detect any Chromecast that is nearby, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. So if you’re at a family member’s home and they have Chromecast, you can stream from your device to their TV as well! Can you say “time to share the latest version of the family tree?”
Again, as a non-techie I found Chromecast to be very user-friendly, and a huge value for the price. There are loads of fun apps to explore (music, podcasts, interactive games, and even a karaoke app!). Happy streaming!
P.S. If you decide to purchase Chromecast, will you please use this link? Purchasing through our site supports the free Genealogy Gems podcast and all the free content on our website.