Newspapers are often found wrapped around greasy fish, stacked in the garage, or dumped in the local recycling bin. But, newspapers often yield extraordinary information about family history. Pouring over archived newspapers allows researchers incredible glimpses into people’s lives and unimaginable treasures. They are truly an untapped source.
What sorts of information can one find in newspapers? A few examples would include:
• Biographical information
• Land transfers
• Probate information
• Dead letters
• Human interest
• Tragic events
Take for instance the tragic story of my mother’s paternal grandparents, Josiah and Julia Hummer. Josiah Hummer married Julia Miller in Yuba County, California on 19 November 1876. They resided in Wheaton, Yuba County, California in 1880. Sometime after 1880 they moved to Ventura County, California. In the Ventura Signal, dated 13 January 1883, an article titled “A Coal Oil Explosion” provided the grim details of the death of Julia Hummer, her son Claude, and an infant daughter. Her eight-year old son inadvertently poured kerosene on the stove causing the home to be engulfed in flames, killing three people. Josiah’s grief was insurmountable and he was unable to cope. The remainder of his children were “scattered to the four winds.”
However, an interview with George Senteney printed in the Carpinteria Herald on 13 October 1960 provided additional information about the Hummer family. He explained that:
• Joe, the youngest child, was adopted by the Slinger family.
• Charles, another brother, was sent to an orphan’s home in San Francisco, later to be adopted by the Mann family.
• He, George, my great-grandfather, born 9 July 1880 in Gridley, Yuba County, California was adopted by the Francis Marion Senteney family and lived the remainder of his days in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County, California.
My mother assumed her entire life her last name was Senteney, not realizing the name had been changed from Hummer because of adoption. When George Senteney died 3 April 1967 in Carpinteria there were no parents listed on his death certificate. George was born after the 1880 census had been enumerated, so he was never listed with his parents.
What about Josiah? In 1900, there was no sign of Josiah Hummer on the census, but a mysterious entry for a Charles J. Hummer was located in Hemet Township, Riverside County, California. He was born in December 1849 in Pennsylvania, information which coincided with the 1880 census. Josiah appeared to be married for a second time with an additional child.
I located a death certificate for a Josiah Charles Hummer in California. He died 15 April 1937 in Rancho Los Amigos, Los Angeles County, California. He was born 25 December 1849 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Joseph Hummer and Mary Thompson. Armed with this additional information, I checked the 1850 census and located a Joseph Hummer family in Adams County, Pennsylvania with a son Josiah, age one. This Josiah looked promising, but there was still room for speculation.
A newspaper search for the surname Hummer provided additional information and made the family unit more cohesive. The Gettysburg Times edition of 24 April 1937 had a front page article on Josiah Charles Hummer under the obituary column:
Word has been received in Gettysburg of the death of Josiah Charles Hummer, 92,
Los Angeles, California on April 15. He was the son of the late Joseph and Mary
Hummer of Mummasburg. He left Adams [C]ounty about 70 years ago. Mr. Hummer
is survived by one sister, Mrs. Mary H. Leeper, of York, and a number of nieces
and nephews, among whom are the Misses Nellie and Martha Lentz, of Gettysburg.
The use of newspapers aided in locating the real parents of George Senteney, tied two separate families in two different places together, and put to rest a mystery unbeknownst to most family members. Newspapers can shed light on mysteries and provide you with unimaginable glimpses into your family’s lives and those who associated with them. Newspapers are untapped sources of information.