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.
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.)
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
Find 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!
Here’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. It’s PACKED with European military records from WWII back to the War of 1812. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!
BRITISH POWs IN JAPAN. Over 56,000 records pertaining to the 37,583 British and Commonwealth soldiers released from Japanese captivity in 1945 are now available on Forces War Records. ‘This collection…lists the soldiers, along with the occasional civilian, who endured these conditions. Prisoners were only obliged to provide their name, rank and number so the amount of military information is limited, however the records do include the date of capture, the camp in which they were held and the date of liberation, be that through release, escape or death.”
BRITISH JEWS IN WWI. Findmypast’s new British Jewry Book of Honour 1914-1920 “contains nearly 57,000 color images and transcripts of [an original] two-volume book published in 1922 to record and honor” contributions of more than 50,000 Jews to the British and colonial forces during World War I. “It describes Jewish enlistment, casualties, military honors, Jewish units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action, those who were awarded military honors and the nominal rolls of Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.”
BRITISH WAR OF 1812. The British Army Casualty Index War of 1812 now at Findmypast “contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted, or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War)….Each record consists of a transcript of the original source material that will reveal the soldiers name, birth place, former occupation, rank, regiment or unit, place or action, company officer, company number, removal date and manner of removal – this may include information on how a soldier died or whether he deserted or was a prisoner of war.”
SCOTTISH CHURCH RECORDS. A new Findmypast collection, Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688 contains over 81,000 records of The Covenanters, a “Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, England and Ireland, during the 17th century….The records list the individuals who signed the Covenant…[and] a transcript created using sources held by The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland…[with] the Covenanter’s name, county, a description (often their occupation or relatives) and place.”
WWII in EUROPE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched a new online database of British, Irish, and Commonwealth WWII casualties. It will now be possible for the first time “to see the original records of all 1.7 million individuals the Commission commemorates.” According to a press release, “The digitized records cover British, Irish and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, together with records for most other nationals commemorated at CWGC sites: this includes the records for German soldiers.”
We love seeing all these new genealogy records online every week! The trick is to get the word out about them. Will you help us by sharing this post with others?
Got ancestors from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Island? Check out these new UK genealogy records online: 1939 Register updates; newspapers; Scottish postal directories and local resources for Derbyshire and the city of York.
Featured Update: Additions to the 1939 Register online
Over 660,000 new records pertaining to empty, uninhabited addresses across England and Wales have been added to Findmypast’s unique and important online 1939 Register resource.
We asked Jim Shaughnessy at Findmypast how these records can help a researcher. “There are a few things that an empty address can tell you,” he responds. “Knowing the house you are looking for was an empty address in 1939 may help you to direct further research. As with other record sets, the occupations of the neighbors can give you an idea of the area (in terms of the largest local employer).”
The ability to search even vacant addresses “can also give you information about areas [later] destroyed by aerial bombing during the War (and during the extensive regeneration in the decades following),” writes Jim. “The Register was compiled September 1939; bombing began in 1940 and a lot of houses wouldn’t have been rebuilt, particularly in impoverished areas where we had bombsites for years and years afterwards. So from that you could look at how the War changed that area or that street: what doesn’t exist now but did pre-Blitz.”
Jim also pointed out that “Findmypast is the only site on which you can search by address on the 1911 census as well as the 1939 register, plus we have the largest collection of electoral rolls, also searchable by address. You can search by address and then build the entire picture of what your family did.”
More UK Genealogy Records Now Online
The British Newspaper Archive recently added four new titles: the Willesden Chronicle, published in London and the Warrington Guardian, published in Cheshire; the Dudley Herald [Dudley, West Midlands, England] and the Monitor, and Missionary Chronicle, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland [Belfast, Northern Ireland]. The British Newspaper Archive now holds over 19.5 million pages of historic newspapers dating from the early 1700s to the early 2000s!
In addition, Findmypast has added over 186,000 records to its collection, Sussex, Eastbourne Gazette Newspaper Notices. “This indexed collection includes names found in the paper’s family notices section (announcements of births, marriages, and deaths) as well as other reports on events such as divorces, murders, tragedies, shipwrecks, lynchings, and paternity cases. The newspaper reported on stories in Sussex, but also internationally.”
Derbyshire, England. Over 800 records have been added to Findmypast’s unique collection of Derbyshire Hospital Admissions and Deaths 1855-1913. “The collection now contains over 5,000 records taken from two different sources: Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, Deaths 1892 – 1912 and Victoria Memorial Cottage Hospital, Ashbourne Admissions 1899 – 1913,” states an announcement. “Each record includes a transcript produced by the Ancestral Archives of Derbyshire. Records can include the patient’s admission date, reason for admission, condition after admission, marital status, residence, rank or profession, date of discharge or death, and cause of death.” Looking for other Derbyshire ancestors? Click here to read about online Methodist records for Derbyshire.
York, England. A new Findmypast resource, The York Collection, includes nearly 300,000 genealogical records documenting over 600 years of residents of the city of York. A press release calls it “the largest online repository of historic City of York records in the world….Fully searchable transcripts of each original document are also included, enabling anyone to go online and search for their York ancestors by name, location, and date.”
The collection is comprised of a variety of fascinating documents, including hearth & window tax records (1665-1778); lists of apprentices and freemen (1272-1930); city of York trade directories; electoral registers (1832-1932), city of York school admission registers; city of York deeds registers (1718-1866); city of York militia & muster rolls (1509-1829), and city of York calendars of prisoners (1739-1851). This collection was published in partnership with Explore York.
A snippet from an 1820s post office directory for Aberdeen and vicinity. Image on Findmypast.com.
Over 180,000 new record images have been added to Findmypast.com’s collection of Scottish post office directories, now spanning 1774-1942. The collection has nearly 900 browse-only volumes of directories that offer descriptions of Scottish towns along with lists of residents by occupation and address.
Here’s a little background from Findmypast: “Post directories are an excellent source for family historians wanting to trace ancestors on a yearly basis. Directories allow you to fill in the gaps between the census records. They can also provide vital information about your ancestor’s residence, which can lead to the discovery of more records….Directories can add historical context to your ancestor’s story. Directories will give you a better understanding of where your ancestor lived, such as how many businesses were in the town, how many schools, what day was the market day, and how big was the town.”
“Directories may focus on a particular town or district or you can find national postal directories. The majority of post directories comprise a description of the place, along with lists of people by occupation. For example, you will find lists of magistrates, councillors, sheriffs, police officers, and merchants. It is important to remember that post directories are not complete lists of all the residents in the town or county. Also, many directories fail to include women.”
TIP: A browse-only collection of digitized Scottish post office directories for 1773-1991 is available to search for free online at the National Library of Scotland.
Start researching your English ancestors with this free two-part article series:
British Research for Beginners (“English” v. “British” and more)
English Parish Records: Finding English Ancestors Before 1837
The US National Archives has signed agreements with FamilySearch and Ancestry to put more of the Archives’ unique genealogical treasures online. We think that’s worth shouting about!
The National Archives has been working with FamilySearch and Ancestry for years to digitize genealogical treasures from its vaults. Contracts have been signed to continue efforts with both partners to digitize even MORE genealogy records at the National Archives: MORE birth, marriage, death, immigration and military service records! Here are some highlights from the contract:
1. Partners will now “be able to post segments of large collections immediately, rather than waiting for the entire collection to be completed.” This sounds familiar to users of FamilySearch, which regularly dumps un-indexed chunks of digitized content onto its site just to make it available faster.
2. The updated agreement contains provisions to protect “personally identifying information.”
3. Ancestry will have a shorter time period (by 12-24 months) during which they have exclusive rights to publish the images together with the index. After that, the National Archives can put the material on its site and/or share it with other partners.
4. The National Archives “will continue to receive copies of the digital images and metadata for inclusion in its online catalog….The public will be able to access these materials free of charge from National Archives research facilities nationwide [not online]. Ancestry.com makes the digitized materials available via subscription.”
What kind of data is already online from The National Archives?
FamilySearch and Ancestry already host digital images of millions of National Archives documents: U.S. federal censuses. Passenger lists. Border crossings. Naturalization records. Compiled military service records. Freedman’s Bank and Freedmen’s Bureau records (the latter are currently being indexed). Federal taxation records. And the list goes on! According to the press release, before these partnerships began, “many of these records were only available by request in original form in the research rooms of the National Archives.”
Click here to search all the National Archives content on Ancestry (more than 170 million images; subscription required to view).
Just in case you’re wondering (and I was wondering), The National Archives isn’t playing favorites with their partnerships. This list shows that a National Archives partnership is pending with Findmypast. They’re already working with Fold3. I wasn’t surprised to see the John F. Kennedy Library on their list, but I wouldn’t have guessed the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland!
Click to read more National Archives gems on our website:
Celebrate the U.S. Constitution with National Archives Resources
National Archives Digitizing Projects: Colonial, WWII, Jewish and More
National Archives Regional Facilities Closing or Consolidating