Family History Episode 27 – Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1

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.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 15, 2014

https://lisalouisecooke.com/familyhistorypodcast/audio/fh27.mp3

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 27: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1

Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically.  You can find everything from birth, marriage and death announcements, to school and club event, crime stories, land transactions, sports activities and just about any other activity that your ancestors were part of that made the news.  So let’s get started and “Read all about it!”

In this episode, you’ll hear from Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society. She is currently the president there and often teaches on this subject. Our conversation on newspaper research continues in next week’s episode!

Here are some take-away thoughts from this episode, along with some updates:

  1. Determine which newspapers existed for your ancestor’s hometown and time period. Look for ethnic and neighborhood papers, too. The most comprehensive U.S. newspaper directory is at Chronicling America. This site does let you search by language, ethnic background, labor group and more.
  2. Look for these newspapers at digitized newspaper sites, starting with the free ones. In the U.S., this means starting with Chronicling America and state digital newspaper project sites (search on the state name and “digital newspapers”). These sites came out of the government digitizing program mentioned in the show.
  3. Digitized newspaper searching is done with OCR (optical character recognition), which doesn’t pick up everything in tough-to-read historical print. Try searching with different spellings, a first name in a particular timeframe, or other people or terms that may have been mentioned.
  4. Ancestry has put lots of newspapers on their website—but not everything, and for only limited time periods. Notice what time period is covered for a specific newspaper. Ancestry has since launched Newspapers.com.
  5. If you’ve found the name of a newspaper that probably covered your family, but you haven’t found it digitized, search the name of the newspaper in your favorite web browsers. Most newspapers are on microfilm somewhere and web directories will likely list holdings. Also, some newspapers have also been indexed on USGenWeb or other sites.
  6. State archives and libraries are often a great resource for newspapers. Local libraries may have unique clippings files or scrapbooks.
  7. Several websites and databases now focus on obituary content. You can target a search for these.
How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Available at the Genealogy Gems Store

I loved this topic so much I ended up writing a book on it! How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers walks you through the process of finding and researching old newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources, websites worth paying for, location-based newspaper websites and a case study that shows you how it’s done.

6 Top Newspaper Research Resources

Some of the digital newspaper collections mentioned in the episode are available by library subscription, like The Early American Newspapers collection the and 19th century Newspaper Collection from The Gale Group. Check with your local library.

GenealogyBank

Godfrey Memorial Library

New England Historic Genealogical Society  (by subscription only)

Newspapers.com

Ancestry.com

British Newspaper Archive

Small Town Papers

USGenWeb

5 Steps to Finding Marriage Records

Show Notes: Marriage records are essential to building your family tree. Here are the 5 steps you need to in order to find an ancestor’s marriage record. 

Watch the Video

5 Steps to Finding Marriage Records for Genealogy

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes Marriage Records Worksheet for Premium Members

A really good Spring cleaning task is to look through your family tree, starting with yourself and working backwards, and just checking to see if you have all the vital records for everyone. Vital records include birth, marriage and death records. Civil marriage records are typically some of the oldest vital records, and offer valuable information. 

Step 1:  Determine the time and place.

Time and place are critical to marriage record searches. Records like census records can help you get within 10 years of a marriage, and can also help you narrow in on the location of the wedding. Thankfully, all U.S. Federal Census records are free and online at FamilySearch.

Marriage records are typically filed at the county level. However, they can sometimes be found at the town level, particularly in New England. 

It’s very important to identify the correct county at the time of the estimated marriage. You can do that using the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. Click on the state and then select the time frame. 

Step 2: Use a genealogy guidance website

Genealogy “guidance” websites pull together information from a variety of sources to aid you in your research in a particular area. Here are two of my favorites:

The FamilySearch Wiki 

Click on North America > United States > State. Scroll down the state page and click on the county. Use Alt + F to quickly search for the word marriage.

The wiki will likely also provide you with links and clues as to where to find the records. Remember, it’s not always a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start.

Learn more about the Wiki with these videos:

If civil marriage records had not yet started when your ancestors married, look for church marriage records. Learn more with my video: How to Use Church Records for Genealogy (Premium)

US GenWeb

  • All-volunteer website
  • Organized by state and then county.
  • Great place to tap into the collective brain trust of genealogists interested in the same area.
  • Provides information such as when records started, how to access them, or if they are no longer available.
  • Provides links to online records.

Step 3: Genealogy Records Websites

If those leads don’t pan out, next turn to major genealogy websites. Start with the free FamilySearch, then if you have subscriptions to sites like Ancestry or MyHeritage, use those. (Note: These are affiliate links and we are compensated if you make a purhcase.) Only a fraction of these website’s record collections are included in their hints and suggestions. This means that the card catalog is essential if you want to scour all the records. 

Learn more about searching Ancestry’s card catalog: Ancestry Top Tips and Hot Keys (Premium)

Step 4: Contact the jurisdiction that originally created the records

If you don’t get the record that way, you’ll need to do it the old-fashioned way: contact the county or town clerk.

Early vital records are often moved to the state level. That contact information can likely be found on the FamilySearch Wiki page you found, or you can Google:
County name, state “marriage records”

Check the following repositories:

  • State Library
  • State Archive
  • State Historical Society
  • County Historical Society
  • Other: _________________________________________

Step 5: Google Search

If all else fails, turn to Google to see if there are any other repositories or online resources outside of the largest genealogy websites and archives. Use search operators to focus your search.

Example:  Randolph County Indiana “marriage records” 1880..1900

The quotation marks ensure that the exact phrase (Marriage records) is included on each web page result you get.

Two numbers separated by two periods is called a Numrange search. This instructs Google to also ensure that each web page result includes a number (in our case, a year) that falls within that range. It’s a great way to target marriage records from a particular time frame. 

Learn more about marriage record research with these two instructional videos:

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes Marriage Records Worksheet for Premium Members

 

Genealogy Research Techniques for Finding Your Free People of Color

Not all people of color were enslaved prior to the emancipation. In fact, many were freed long before that. Researching free people of color can be quite complex. Tracing my own family line (who were free people of color) continues to be a real learning process for me. However, don’t let the challenges deter you from exploring this rich part of your heritage. In this “Getting Started” post, we discuss the manumission process, “negro registers,” and more for tracing your free people of color.

Who are Free People of Color?

[Note: Throughout our post, we will be using terminology that was used at the time the records were created.] A ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’ was a fairly recent status in the U.S. which differentiated between an African-American person who was free and those who were enslaved prior to emancipation. If a person was referred to as a ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’, that meant the person was not living in slavery. It is a fascinating and little know fact that, as Ancestry Wiki states, “one in ten African-Americans was already free when the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.”

Step 1 for Tracing Free People of Color: Censuses

Sometimes, the story of your ancestors being free people of color was passed on through oral traditions. In my own family, our “line of color” was not talked about. Instead, my first clue was when I found my ancestor in the 1840 population census listed as free. I also found that one woman (presumably his wife) was marked in the column for “free white persons,” but John and the children were marked as “free colored persons” in this census. This was the first step to identifying my ancestor as a free person of color.

Let’s see another example. The 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses included two population schedules. One enumerated free inhabitants, and the additional schedule, referred to as a Slave Schedule, was for making an enumeration of those persons who were enslaved. [We will discuss this further, below.]

If your ancestor appears on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for free inhabitants, they are considered free, even if their race was listed as “Black.” An example of a Black man enumerated on the 1850 census is shown in the image below. Archibald Giles is recorded as “Black,” but appears on this census for “free inhabitants.” Therefore, he would be considered a free person of color.

If your targeted ancestor does not appear on either the 1850 or 1860 population schedule for free inhabitants, they might have been enumerated on the slave schedules of 1850 or 1860.

freepeopleofcolor_4

1850 Slave Schedule for Henry County, Tennessee. Snapshot via Ancestry.com.

You can check the 1850 Slave Schedule and the 1860 Slave Schedules at Ancestry.com. The 1850 census is also available at Findmypast, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch.

In this example to the left, you will see a portion of the Henry County, Tennessee Slave Schedule for 1850. Notice, only the heads of household or the “owners” were listed by name. Slaves were not named, but rather listed by age and sex under the names of their “owners.”

Step 2: The Manumission Process

Once you have identified that you have free people of color in your family tree, the next step is to determine how they became free. Many free people of color came from families that had been free for generations. This could have been due to a manumission of an ancestor or a relationship between an indentured white woman and a black slave. I make mention of this relationship between races because it is helpful to remember that the status (whether free or enslaved) of the child was based on the status of their mother. If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Manumission was a formal way in which slaves were set free. There are many reasons why a slave owner may have released or freed his slaves. In some cases, slave owners would free their mistresses and children born to her. In one case, I found the following comment made by the slave owner,  “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me…” And thirdly, it was possible for a slave to obtain their manumission through the act of “self-purchase.”

If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Private manumission through probate. A private manumission decree could be made in a last will and testament. You can find these manumissions in wills, estate papers, or in probate packets. Many of these county level probate records have been microfilmed or digitized and are easily accessible online.

Sometimes, a manumission in a will would be contested. When this happened, a long paper trail of court documents may have been created. A thorough search of all of these proceedings may offer a wealth of genealogical data and clues.

Usually, manumission papers included the name of the slave owner, the name of the slave, and the reason for manumission. In the case of the slaves of John Randolph of Roanoke [Virginia,] his slaves were not named individually in his will written on 4 May 1819. Instead he stated, “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented my manumitting them in my lifetime, which is my full intention to do, in case I can accomplish it.”[2]

John freed over five hundred slaves, and though each of them was not listed by name in his will, a codicil at the end of the will did name two of his slaves when he asked that Essex and his wife Hetty “be made quite comfortable.”[3]

freepeopleofcolor_1

Record of Arthur Lee purchasing his freedom.

Manumission through self purchase. Self-purchase may seem impossible; however, many slaves were not required to work on Sundays for their masters.[4] On this day, men and women could hire themselves out to do work for others. With frugality, they could save their earnings to buy their freedom or the freedom of their loved ones, though this was very, very difficult.

As you can see in this example of Arthur Lee, he was able to pay for his freedom and the freedom of his wife, though it took many years. This type of record could be found in a published book, a record listed in notarial books of the county, civil minutes books, or other courthouse holdings. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable person in your targeted area about where you should look. A knowledgeable person may be those working with the local historical or genealogical society, or a head of the local history department of the public library.

Step 3: “Negro Registers”

If you do not find the manumission in a last will and testament, perhaps due to a courthouse fire or other loss, you may have luck searching the county records where your free people of color later settled. Free people of color were often required to register, using their freedom papers, when they relocated to a new area. These types of records are called ‘negro registers’ or ‘records of free negros.’

Newly freed people carried with them their freedom papers which were given to them when they were manumitted. Once they relocated, they would register with the county clerk. They would need to show the county clerk these freedom papers and a record was made in the register. The record may include the name of members of the family, ages, and most recent place of residence.

The book titled Registers of Blacks in the Miami Valley: A Name Abstract, 1804-1857 by Stephen Haller and Robert Smith, Jr. provides the following information about registers of freed people:

“From 1804 to 1857, black people in Ohio had to register their freedom papers with the clerk of courts of common pleas in the county where they desired residency or employment. State law required this registration, and clerks of court were to keep register books containing a transcript of each freedom certificate or other written proof of freedom (see Laws of Ohio 1804, page 63-66; 1833, page 22; 1857, page 186). Few of these registers have survived to the 20th century.”[2]

Though this author says that only a few of the registers have survived, I found some microfilmed registers listing the names of free people of color who had settled in Miami County, Ohio at the local historical society archives. Again, it is important to ask those people who would be most knowledgeable, and in this case, it was the historical society.

In conclusion, we understand that tracing both our enslaved and manumitted ancestors is often a difficult task. We also know there is much more to learn and share for the best techniques to researching these lines. We encourage you to review some of the additional sources below. Please let us know what other resources have been most helpful to you in researching your free people of color in the comments section below. We want to hear from you!

Source Citations

[1] Kenyatta D. Berry, “Researching Free People of Color,” article online, PBS, Genealogy Roadshow,  accessed 1 Dec 2016.

[2] Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, page 108, online book, Google Books, accessed 20 Dec 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] History Detectives Season 8, Episode 10, PBS, online video, originally aired 29 Aug 2010, accessed 1 Dec 2016.

Additional Reading

Free at Last: Slavery in Pittsburgh,” article and database online, University of Pittsburgh.
John Randolph,” article online, Ohio History Central.
Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, book online, Google Books.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineHere’s this week’s roundup of new genealogy records online: Australia, France, New Zealand and, in the U.S., records for AK, CO, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, PA and WI.

AUSTRALIA – NORTHERN TERRITORY – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has a new probate index (1911-1994) for Northern Territory, Australia. The collection includes images of an index “organized first by year range, then alphabetically by surname and given name.”

FRANCE – MILITARY. FamilySearch.org has published a new online index to military conscription records for Saône-et-Loire (1867-1940). Privacy restrictions apply to those born less than 120 years ago.

NEW ZEALAND – PROBATE. More than 350,000 browsable records (and over 10,000 indexed records) have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Zealand probate records (1843-1998). Original records are sourced from Archives New Zealand offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

US – VARIOUS – MARINE. Over 315,000 records are part of a new Ancestry.com collection of applications for seaman’s protection certificates, (1916-1940).

US – VARIOUS – MARRIAGE. Findmypast.com announced the addition of around 10 million additional U.S. marriage records to its growing online collection. According to a press release, “This second installment includes significant additions from Indiana, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maine.” Nearly a million of these are new to online publication and, at least for now, exclusive to Findmypast. (The collection is part of a FamilySearch partnership.)

US – VARIOUS – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has updated its collections of wills and probate records for Wisconsin, Maryland and Colorado. Coverage by time period and county varies.

US – ARKANSAS – CIVIL WAR. About 172,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of Arkansas Ex-Confederate Pension Records (1891-1939).

US – MASSACHUSETTS – TOWN CLERK RECORDS. FamilySearch has added nearly half a million indexed names to its free online collection, Massachusetts Town Clerk Vital and Town Records 1626-2001. A new related collection of Massachusetts town records is also available on FamilySearch.

US – NEW HAMPSHIRE. Over 100,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Hampshire Birth Certificates (1901-1909). According to the collection description, “Records consist of index cards that give the town and date of the event and often much more information.”

sign up newsletterNew genealogy records appear online by the millions every week. Keep current by subscribing to the free weekly Genealogy Gems email newsletter. The newsletter comes with a free e-book by Lisa Louise Cooke on Google search strategies you can use to find MORE genealogy records online that you need. Simply enter your email address in the box at the top of this webpage where it says “Sign up.”

 

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