Canada Newspaper Local News (National Institute)Edit This Page

From FamilySearch Wiki

Revision as of 17:53, 22 March 2013 by NationalInstitute (Talk | contribs)
 
National Institute for Genealogical StudiesNational Institute for Genealogical Studies.gif

The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Contents

Crimes and Accidents

Crime, always of newspaper interest, is a rich resource if researchers have relatives involved, either as perpetrators or as victims.

Robbery

In the earliest Edmonton Bulletin, with its lack of local personal news, there is a theft given in some detail. It begins with a short item on the first page:

On Friday Matche-sis was tried on another charge of having stolen some cloth from an Indian woman named Margaret Resurrection and selling the same to Mrs. Wesley Joe. On this charge he was also sent down for trial. The trials will take place before Col. Richardson, S.M. (23 February 1881)

The odd wording of this news item is confusing to the reader, as if we had stumbled into the middle of an article. When we reach an inside page (they are unnumbered), we find that is true.

Here we find a lengthy account of what happened, clearly written before the short item on page one:

A week ago last Tuesday night the house occupied by Mose McDougall and Charlie Sutter was entered and about $25 worth of goods belonging to Charlie and about $3 in cash, belonging to Mose, was taken.   The Goods were not missed for some time, but as there seemed to be  a superabundance of blue ribbon and silk handkerchiefs lying around in various quarters, an inventory was taken, which showed the before mentioned amount was missing.  Part of the property was recovered, and the theft was traced to a young rascal called Mat-che-sis, and another who worked for Mose a short time before.  One Tuesday the latter called at the house and made a statement of the affair and on Wednesday morning an information was laid against Mr. Mat-che-sis for house breaking and robbery.   It appears that as they were passing the house the noticed that no one was at home, and Mat-che-sis proposed they should go in.  They went to the back door, raised it off the hinges, went in, and took what they fancied, --three rolls of ribbon, a silk handkerchief and some other turff.  On thursday the gentleman was arrested, examined before Messrs. Hardesty and Gagnon, J.P.'s and committed for trial on the above charge.

Elsewhere in the same issue is an advertisement for C. W. Sutter, gentleman’s outfitter, ready made clothing and fancy goods. There being less concern in those days lest a newspaper account affect the trial outcome, the accused is assumed to be guilty and a full description of the crime given. In true old newspaper style, the miscreant’s name is spelled differently on page one than inside the paper.

From this newspaper notice, a researcher with an interest in any of the participants could access the relevant court records to see what the official version would be, and what sentence, if any, was passed on the two men.

Accidental Deaths

Newspapers and court records of many different kinds work in tandem to provide researchers with very detailed materials on legal matters. The sometimes undetailed record in the governmental archives can be supplemented by the juicier version in the newspaper account.

An accidental death resulting from a car running into a horse-drawn wagon near Highland Creek, Ontario, in 1926 led to a court case with a man convicted of leaving the scene of the accident, among other things.

It starts on page one and continues inside the paper in great detail as this snippet illustrates:

Walter Anderson, who was a passenger in a car whose lights picked up the damaged wagon, told of seeing a lantern laying on its side beside Bull on the highway. Half an hour earlier, Anderson had seen this lantern sitting on the ground near Bull at West Hill just before he pulled out to go to his home on the Danforth road.

“Bull wished me a merry Christmas at West Hill,” said witness. “I did not see him leave for home though.” The lantern was not lighted when found beside Bull on the road but was lighted at West Hill. (Oshawa Daily Reformer, 7 January 1927)


Looking at the index to an archival finding aid (an easy task) produces a court case, which will include a previously unknown date of the event. Once the date is known, it is a simple matter to consult local newspapers.

In the case above, which took place at West Hill and Highland Creek, some distance from Oshawa, the trial took place at the county seat (Whitby, next to Oshawa). Keep these jurisdictions in mind when linking court cases to newspaper reports.

Murders

Newspapers have always loved murders, because of the sensational reports they generate:

Brutal Murder

Colwell, Oct. 1.—O. W. Garrett, a pioneer of Montcalm county, and 61 years old, was brutally murdered last night or this morning, his head being nearly severed from his body by an axe or hatchet. About a quarter past 11 this morning Mrs. Garrett, wife of deceased, came over to the residence of Mr. Knight, a near neighbor, and informed them that Mr. Garrett was dead, and that he died about 4 o’clock this morning. Mr. Knight, accompanied by three or four other neighbors, also by Dr. Hammond, of Trufant, visited the residence of the deceased and there a horrible sight was found. The deceased lay with his head and shoulders on the floor, and his feet resting on the side of the bed. Life was extinct, and from appearances had been dead for some time.

A jury was summoned and an inquest held. Several witnesses were examined and evidence taken from which the jury brought in a verdict that the deceased came to his death at the hands of his wife from wounds inflicted by an axe or hatchet; that no weapons were found, and that one or more of the wounds would have been fatal. Mrs. Garrett was arrested and taken to Coral. From the evidence taken it appeared that the deceased had lived very unhappily with his wife for the past fifteen years, and that she has several times threatened his life. The supposition is that Mrs. Garrett struck the deceased with the axe one or more blows while in bed, and then either dragged him or he fell from the bed and she finished her hellish purpose while his head lay on the floor, as there was no signs of a struggle and but very little blood on the bed. Mrs. Garrett refused to testify at the inquest, and would answer no questions at all. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)

This excited narrative, with its shaky grammar, was published a long way from the events it describes. It probably derived from a telegraphed wire story which was published across North America because of the quality of the story. Nonetheless, it can represent murders as they have always been reported, emphasising the gore and dramatic quality of everyone’s reaction. There will certainly be more detail in the local newspaper at the time of the trial, and court records in the archives.

Most people do not have a murder in the family, but it is a rare thing when there are no relations who have gone to jail at some point, or at least faced a judge in court.

Domestic Disputes

One of the commonest of these is the domestic dispute.

One year for wife beating

Returning to his home in Meaford between one and two o’clock Sunday morning, after working for some months with farmers in the country, Walter A. McKay proceeded to make things lively by smashing in the front door with an axe, pulling his wife out of bed and assaulting her in a way that left marks of violence on her face and body. One of the children, jumping out through a window, ran to a neighbor’s house and telephoned to Chief Constable Clark who soon arrived at the scene of the trouble and placed McKay under arrest. The chief at once took his man to the lock-up.

Charged with causing bodily injuries to his wife McKay appeared before Magistrate Creasor. when the charge against him was read he pleaded guilty and elected to be tried by the magistrate. Mrs. McKay related the particulars of the assult while Dr. Eberhart described the nature of the injuries which she had sustained.

Magistrate Creasor, in imposing a sentence of one year in the Guelph Reformatory, said the maximum penalty for wife beating was three years in the penitentiary, but he hoped a sentence of one year would prove a lesson to the accused for the rest of his life. (Collingwood Bulletin, 10 March 1927)

Although finding this sort of event in one’s family history is not pleasant, it cannot be ignored. In larger cities, this routine domestic occurrence would not merit newspaper coverage. In earlier days, wife beating seemed to be the occasion of levity.

Richard McCarroll was penned up for beating his wife last week. After thus exerting himself he is taking a rest of 20 days in jail.

Abigail Fanson was fined $10 or 20 days in jail last week for thrashing her darling husband. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)

Fires

A common news item reported local fires. In the days of open hearths, or of wood-burning stoves, house fires happened regularly. Descriptions of fires are often vividly detailed, and can be copied directly into a family history.

The residence of Thomas Perley of Maugerville was destroyed by fire Thursday. As the house was surrounded by water the inmates would have had great difficulty in escaping had it not been for the assistance rendered by the ferry Sarah H., which had been sent by the Government to render assistance to the inhabitants of the overflowed country of Maugerville and Sheffield. (Religious Intelligencer, 18 May 1887)

Information about fires can be used in conjunction with fire insurance maps, which are widely available, to obtain a good idea of a relative’s house (size and construction). For more details about using fire insurance maps in this way, see Fire insurance maps: their history and applications, by Diane L. Oswald (Lacewing Press, 1997).

Some idea of the extent of Canadian fire insurances maps can be gained by consulting Robert J. Hayward’sFire insurance plans in the national map collection (National Archives of Canada, 1977). Many fire insurance maps, either in the original paper format or on microfiche, are available in local archives.

There may also be local guides, such as Canadian fire insurance plans in Ontario collections, 1876-1973, by Marcel Fortin, Lorraine Dubreil and Cheryl A. Woods (Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives, 1995).

Legal Notices

Newspapers have always been a means of conveying legal notices to the public. These might be governmental in origin, announcing public appointments, for instance, or personal.

I hereby give notice that I am not responsible for any debts contracted by my brother, Thomas St. Jean.

X. St. Jean

(Edmonton Bulletin, 16 April 1887)

Husbands giving notice that they would not be responsible for a wife’s debts can be found in many pioneer newspapers. This indication of a breakdown in family relations may be the only independent record a genealogist can find that the pair has parted.

Divorces were so difficult to obtain in Canada that couples would separate but not divorce, but without the newspaper notice a researcher several generations later has no way of knowing this. Even the earliest newspapers have these legal notices in them.

A variation of this kind of notice is that regarding missing people. These are more rare, and information about runaways might be found more profitably in news items, but the data in the notices can be useful.

Province readers are asked to help find this boy [portrait] Desmond Boyd, 16, five feet six inches, husky build, 140 pounds, brown eyes, dark brown hair, and heavy, dark brows. May be wearing a grey tweed suit or grey jacket and blue trousers. He has been missing from his home at 882 East Thirty-second since April 12. (Vancouver Province, 25 April 1947)

Social Notes and News Items

Having examined the most commonly-used genealogical section of the newspaper, the BMD  (Births, Marriages, Deaths) column, we now turn to the rest of the publication. Is it worthwhile spending research time looking at these other pages?

The answer should be obvious by now: it is yes. Almost any other section of the newspaper can add to our genealogical knowledge if a relation is mentioned.

Local newspapers overflow with material about the people in their towns, and even large urban newspapers include a great deal of personal material about residents.

Finding this information takes time and patience. Any newspaper offers a vast accumulation of material to be scanned for data. Even a weekly of four pages per issue means over two hundred broadsheet pages per year to be examined. Most newspapers are more than four pages and dailies are considerably larger.

The happy side is that this kind of research is not only beneficial in finding family information, it is also educational and amusing.

It is educational in the sense that we see how people lived in the period of the newspaper, their attitudes about a great many things and what was important to them.

As for amusement, reading old newspapers is addictive in the pleasure it brings, for the quaint stories, the old-fashioned attitudes and, of course, the jokes, however tame they seem by today’s standards.

Looking through the social columns of newspapers may be necessary in many instances, when the paper does not include a BMD column as such, but scatters the marriages and deaths throughout the paper along with ads for patent medicines and reminders about lodge meetings.

A glance at the contents of historical papers, even short ones, immediately impresses us with the variety of material and the changes in format over the years.

Take time to glance through these listings of the contents of five newspapers representing the pioneer period, the early twentieth century and a big-city daily of the forties:

The British Columbian, New Westminster, 9 May 1861

  • Poetry
  • ‘Canadian news’ which is entirely ads, mostly for firms in Victoria, and for groceries, bedding, furniture, Chinese goods, books, pans, fishing nets, wine, hardware.
  • News from English papers
  • Editorials
  • Weather
  • Official notices 
  • Shipping news
  • Business cards (professional ads)
  • Letters to the editor (political and signed anonymously or using pseudonyms)
  • Ads for New Westminster and for patent medicines

The Edmonton Bulletin, 23 February 1881v. 1, no. 13)

  • ‘Telegraphic’, i.e., political, news
  • Local news:
weather
Hudson’s Bay Company fur news
mining and lumbering news
local amateur horse race
small local crime (in detail) Ÿ
  • Ads for millers, hotel, books, carpenter, dry goods and grocery stores
  • Ÿ Legal notices

The Edmonton Bulletin, 30 January 1886 (v. 7, no. 13)

In only five years, both the settlement and the newspaper have changed considerably.

  • Ÿ'Telegraphic’: political and overseas news Ÿ
  • the weather in Winnipeg (in detail)
  • Local news:
people ill
people leaving and arriving timber<br
dog shot
public appointments (assessor)
accident
organising a cemetery
thefts
meetings of local clubs
  • ŸAds (many more than earlier) for: restaurants, businesses, private school teacher wanted, professional notices (notary, dentist, lawyer, doctor), hotels, churches
  • Editorial (political)
  • Teacher report
  • ŸList of ‘pool and pigeon hole table and bowling alley licences’
  • Many straying animals lost and found
  • Legal notices.

The Alberta Star, Cardston, Alberta, 18 April 1908

  • Ads
  • ŸObituary
  • ŸPolitics (Japanese labour)
  • ŸAdvice on children’s winter underclothing (on page 1!)
  • Court records
  • Board of Trade meeting
  • Births
  • Whole page of ads for patent remedies
  • Page of patterns for clothing trims, bows and braid
  • Politics and legal notices
  • Joke about cream separators
  • Local social news, including several birth and marriage notices
  • Notes on ‘pioneer houses’, the Kaiser’s uniforms, illness of the Czarina, farm news (poultry)
  • More jokes, a lion hunt
  • A children’s story
  • A serialised novel
  • More political and legal notices
  • More ads, including the Chinese restaurant and bakery, which also sells silk and china.

The Vancouver Province, 25 April 1947

  • p. 1 - Provincial news and some local (a court case about a strip tease club)
  • p. 2 - Mostly ads
  • Ÿp. 3 - Mix of national and foreign news, short items
  • Ÿp. 4 - Editorials
  • Ÿp. 5 - Local news
  • p. 6 - Another section of local news
  • p. 7 - Full-page ad for Woodward’s department store
  • p. 8-11 - Local and mixed news, including fuller account of the strip tease case
  • Ÿp. 12-13 - Social news
  • p. 14 - Bridge, etiquette and cooking columns
  • Ÿp. 15 - Local news
  • p. 16-17 - Sports
  • p. 18 - Movie listings
  • p. 19 - National news, plus one obituary
  • p. 20 - Full-page ad for the Bay
  • p. 21-30 - Classified ads
  • Ÿp. 21 - includes births, obituaries, cards of thanks, in memoriam
  • p. 31 - High school news
  • p. 32-33 - Stock market
  • p. 34 - Comics and children’s page
  • p. 35 - National news
  • p. 36 - Full-page ad for Spencer’s Men’s Shops

Basic Contents

If we compare these five papers, we find a great variation, although the basic contents and format are similar for them all. In essence, the big-city Province is the same as the tiny Bulletin, except that there is more of it.

The British Columbian has no local news at all and seems mostly intended for the business community. Shortly afterward the government gazette takes over most of the space; New Westminster was capital of the colony at the time.

In the 1881 Bulletin, most of the news is commercial, concerning lumbering and mining interests. The only materials of interest to historical researchers today are the ads, the crime and the horse race. However, by 1886, the Bulletin has exploded into a regular small-town paper. Even by November of 1881, the editor of the paper had begun to include material of interest to the populace, not merely business and political news. By 1886, there were a great many people’s names being mentioned, those ill, those arriving and leaving, those obtaining licences, and in the extended ads section. An interesting aspect of the 1886 paper is that there is a great deal of repetition, the same ads and social items being repeated in the same issue as a means of filling the space.

The Star of 1908 is a town weekly, bubbling with long-established affairs in the town. There are BMDs, but not in a column of their own. Obituaries on page one are a feature of these small papers, emphasising the importance of personal news. A great deal of the paper can be skipped by genealogical researchers: the items about the Kaiser and the Czarina, the children’s story and the novel, the labour politics. The jokes might provide diversion, both the intentional ones and the unintentional solemnities about children’s winter underclothing. There is also a great deal of local news which might mention a relative and can be scanned for familiar names.

Scanning

Scanning newspapers in this way is necessary, but beware of doing it too quickly, when you might miss something. The other danger is that although your eye continues to zoom up and down the columns, your mind wanders elsewhere. If your concentration lapses, you won’t see the names you want when you come to them.

It’s wise to:

  • Come to read the newspaper when you feel fresh and alert
  • Keep your reading session short enough that you don’t get fuzzy
  • Take short breaks often, getting up to walk around, breath fresh air
  • If you are looking for many names, keep a list of them at hand, so you can refer to it as you go

The Province is a recognisable newspaper of today; only the hemlines have changed. There is a great deal of the paper which can be skipped: the national and foreign news, editorials, the bridge, etiquette and cooking columns, movie listings, classifieds (except for the BMDs), the stock market, comics and children’s page.

The local news may well contain an individual of interest, although of course in a big city the chances of this are less than in a small town like Cardston. The strip tease story is hilarious, and may work as a compensation for ploughing through all the rest. The full-page ads for Woodward’s, the Bay and Spencer’s take only a moment, and may be historically interesting. The sports may be all national or foreign, without local content.

Genealogical Finds

The parts of the paper richest in genealogical finds will be the BMD column, the social column and the high school news. Even in a big newspaper like this one, it doesn’t take long to look at these pages thoroughly.

A look at the 1935 Medicine Hat News, a small-city newspaper, gives much the same impression. There is a lot of national and international news and little of the sports are local. In the interest of filling the pages, the editors have mixed materials freely. In the local social column, for instance, is an item about Greta Garbo’s birthday, although it is doubtful Miss Garbo was celebrating in Medicine Hat.

The movie page, mostly listings of what was showing that week, includes the social column for Manyberries, a small community near the city. This reminds the researcher not to skip any page completely, but to scan all of them quickly in case local matters have been included.

These local columns gave newsy, almost gossipy, accounts of life in rural communities, and were written by a resident of the locale. The column might appear weekly, or less often, depending on space and the stringer’s ability to find news. As early as the 1908 Star we find these columns and they were very common in small town papers, and still are.

A small city newspaper such as the News featured many of them, but as the city grew, there would have been less room and also the editors may have felt these community columns gave the paper too much of a ‘small town’ feel, so they were eliminated. When they exist, however, they are an important resource for genealogists.

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

Club Meetings

The club notices can provide interesting details if we already know that our relatives belonged to a particular organization, but if we did not know it, then the club name opens a new avenue of research.

Mrs. Chas. Hall went to Calgary this week to attend the Rebekah Assembly, as representative of Coronation Rebekah Lodge no. 16. (The Province, Innisfail, 15 February 1924)


Since Mrs. Hall was of some importance in the Rebekahs (otherwise, she wouldn’t be representing them at a provincial assembly), there will be information about her in their records. If there is uncertainty about Mrs. Hall’s own name, a directory, a later voters’ list, a cemetery listing or other record might supply it.

Detailed reports of some club meetings may appear, especially in the local community news. It may be that the club in question played an important role in the community, as so many Women’s Institute chapters did, or it may simply be that the reporter belonged to the club and had an interest in its affairs. During the 1950s and 1960s, theBowmanville Statesman’s Long Sault column contained regular reports of the meetings of Club 50, a local social group. From a collection of these, a history of Long Sault could probably be written, and certainly if a researcher had a relation in Club 50, there would be plenty of detail for their biography to be gleaned.

Here is an excerpt from the Women’s Institute meeting reported by the Manyberries correspondent of the Medicine Hat News:

…best of all, two more members, Mrs. Strand and Mrs. Wieland answered roll call by turning in five dollars each which they had earned during the year for the W.I. funds.

The members then stood and sang “Ole Olsen” and enacted the jumping in this song for exercises.


Later researchers will find it frustrating that the correspondent has not given full names, falling back on that familiar tone mentioned earlier. However, we learn that Mrs. Strand and Mrs. Wieland were particularly industrious (what had they done to earn the five dollars?) and that Mrs. Webster had the threshers in. Threshing was a time of hard work for the women as well as the men, preparing mountains of food for a crowd of hungry workers three times a day. The image of a group of staid W.I. members jumping and singing would make any genealogist happy, too.

Visits

Accounts of visits, paid or received, were the bread-and-butter of social columns.

Mr. Larry Smith returned on Saturday from Ottawa, where he has been spending a few days with his sister, Mrs. Elliott. (Collingwood Bulletin, 10 March 1927)


Mrs. Christianson, a sister of John Franks, Kimball, who has been spending a few weeks visit in Canada, returned to her home in Utah last week. (Alberta Star, 17 September 1909)


Mr. Charles Blanchard was among the out-of-town people who attended the funeral of the late William Hardill, of Peterborough. (Oshawa Daily Reformer, 7 January 1927)


Mr. A. McNair, who has been on a trip up to Lake Superior for his health, has returned home again greatly improved in health. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)


The question to ask if a familiar name is found in this kind of entry is: are there connections I should know about here? The sisters in the first two items are obvious connections. Blanchard may only have been a friend of Hardill, but there may also be a family connection. What was wrong with Mr. McNair?

Wandering Relations

Among the items about people leaving and arriving will be those for students going away to school.

William Brown, John Roger and William Good will soon leave to qualify themselves better in the profession of teacher. The first two go to the Model School, the last to the Normal. (St. Mary’s Argus, 1 September 1881)}}


This item poses a difficulty. What are the Model and Normal Schools and where are they? These were two names for teacher-training colleges.

There were several Normal Schools in Ontario, the nearest to St. Mary’s being in Stratford. A researcher wanting to follow one of these boys would have to use provincial records to determine first what these schools were, if they did not know, then where they were located in 1881.

The next step would be to ask if the records for the school in question were available. All these queries could be made at the provincial archives.

This item is a good example of a term so familiar to the newspaper’s readers it could be given in a truncated form (‘the Normal’) without anyone wondering what it meant, except the modern reader.

Even more useful for tracing wandering relations is the notice which records where they have gone to work, or simply that they have moved away.

Miss Annie Sled left on Friday for Nipissing Junction where she has accepted a position as teacher on the public school staff. (Nottawa News in the Collingwood Bulletin, 24 March 1927)


Miss V. E. Jenson left on Friday last for Alhambra, where she will resume her duties as school teacher on Monday the 10th inst. (The Province Innisfail, 22 February 1924)


The family of Mr. Noel Green have removed to Georgetown, and the family of Mr. Wm. McNeil have left for London. (Mitchell column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)


This sort of notice is good if all the information you have is ‘he went West.’ Often the news item will specify exactly where, or there may be notices of many people from a certain town all going to the same place in the West. It would be worth investigating if your lost relative went there too, as people tended to follow their neighbours when migrating. As the editor of theSt. Mary’s Argus noted in 1881, “People are leaving North Easthope weekly for Manitoba,” in the same column that he reported a group of sixteen people had gone there from Listowel.

Mr. B. Colter departed last week for Portage La Prairie, where he intends to settle for the remainder of his days. (Stratford column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)


John Campbell, son of Peter Campbell of Logan, has gone to South Africa. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)


If the migrants were given a send-off by their neighbours, the newspaper account can be transferred word-for-word to the family history:

It is regretted by everyone in Winnifred and district that we are losing Mr. and Mrs. Ross Beath and family. They are held in high respect by everyone and were always so ready and doubly willing to share in all the doings of Winnifred, especially in church work. Best wishes possible go with them in their new home. Mr. Beath bought a farm two miles from Battle Lake post office. Their new occupation will be dairy farmers, selling milk, butter and cheese—for a change from wheat farming in this locality, where we are without moisture for a great length of time. (Winnifred column ‘from our own correspondent’,Medicine Hat News, 11 October 1935)


An advantage of this item is that it answers one of the great genealogical questions: why did they move? Here, the Beaths were driven from wheat farming by the droughts of the 1930s, moving north to try dairying.

You may know that a relative went West, then returned. Determining the dates of the migration for his biography may be difficult, but both departure and return may be noted in the social column.

A good possibility for finding migrants from an area is when news of them appears in the social column, either because they have come visiting, or someone has gone to visit them, or simply because their news is being reported to their friends at home.


Mr. George Rice, formerly of Fullarton Corners, had all his buildings and furniture destroyed in the Michigan fires. (St. Mary’s Argus


The unfortunate thing about this item is that it doesn’t specify where George lived in Michigan. However, elsewhere in the issue is a news item about the fires, which were extensive and warranted government intervention to compensate those with losses, so it would be an easy matter to use a larger newspaper, especially one from Detroit, to determine exactly where the fires had happened, narrowing it down to a few counties. From there, directories or census indexes would find where George lived.

Local News

The Innisfail, Alberta Province in the 1920s is interesting because it is virtally all local news in the form of these community columns.  Presumable the editors knew that their residents could obtain information about the Kaiser, the Czarina and the goingd-on in Ottawa from some other paper, and that their function was to provide material about the neighbourhood.  Much of the news is like this: 

Mrs. J. S. Hanson of Sydenham, Ont., is spending the winter with her parents,

Mr. & Mrs. Chr: Sigurdson (from the Markerville column of The Province, 1 February 1923)

Both of the above items provide information about where a family member lived away from the home location. Which of Mrs. Pennington’s daughters lived at Carstairs might require some research. The fact that Mrs. Hanson could be away from home for the whole winter also provokes some questions. Did she bring the children with her? Was her husband working away, on board ship or lumbering? Her father’s name is given in one of those pesky abbreviations; it perhaps stands for Christian, but may be something else.

When you read even the simplest piece of news involving a family member in a newspaper, ask yourself:

Does this tell me more than the obvious?
Does it raise other useful questions?

The social column noted particular events such as club meetings, teas or luncheons, dinners, illnesses, and people’s movements visiting from out of town or going elsewhere. One aspect completely forgotten now is ‘who poured’. One way of bestowing a small mark of favour at an event was to ask a woman to pour the tea. Since coffee was also served, this meant two favours, and for a long event, the pourers might work in shifts.

Tea was poured by Mrs. F. Martyn Oliver, the serviteurs [that is, those passing the cups] being Mrs. Oliver Boyd and Mrs. W. Thomas. (Medicine Hat News, 21 September 1935)


The tea was a late-afternoon entertainment, requiring less food than having people in for a meal, and enabling the hostess to invite more people as well. Coffee as well as tea might be served, along with tiny sandwiches or, more likely, squares, cookies and cake. It grew out of the English afternoon tea, but was considerably less formal in most instances in rural Canada. It was a common way to have a group of people to meet a visitor.

Mrs. J. F. Kane has as her house guest this week her niece Miss Olive Dowdall of Winnipeg in whose honor she entertained at the tea hour yesterday. (Medicine Hat News, 10 October 1935)



Celebrations—birthdays, wedding anniversaries, retirements—might be marked by parties which are reported in the newspaper. All of these are interesting to genealogists, but the wedding anniversary can be especially helpful if it is found and no marriage record has been located.


"Were married 25 years ago last Saturday".

"Mr. and Mrs. William White, Milton street, were married twenty-five years ago Saturday. Their silver wedding anniversary was celebrated Saturday evening when a large number of their friends gathered at their home and spent a most enjoyable night in dancing, song and story, Mr. and Mrs. White being the recipients of many beautiful gifts in commemoration of their 25 years of married life.

A toast to the silver-wedded couple was proposed by Mr. E. W. Harding, and fittingly responded to, Mr. White making a nice acceptance on behalf of himself and wife. Mrs. Joseph Somers on behalf of many friends, presented Mrs. White with a handsome vase and after partaking of a most elaborate spread, the party broke up with the singing of “For they are Jolly Good Fellows.”

During the course of the evening Mrs. A. Bradfield played Mendelsshon’s Wedding March, and Mrs. Levi Dendoff accompanied the various singers of the evening.

Mr. and Mrs. White are both old-time and highly respected residents of the city. They have a host of friends here with whom the Free Press joins in wishing them many happy returns of their wedding day. (Nanaimo Free Press, 22 December 1930)

This notice appeared prominently on page one.

The club notices can provide interesting details if we already know that our relatives belonged to a particular organization, but if we did not know it, then the club name opens a new avenue of research.

Mrs. Chas. Hall went to Calgary this week to attend the Rebekah Assembly, as representative of Coronation Rebekah Lodge no. 16. (The Province, Innisfail, 15 February 1924)

Since Mrs. Hall was of some importance in the Rebekahs (otherwise, she wouldn’t be representing them at a provincial assembly), there will be information about her in their records. If there is uncertainty about Mrs. Hall’s own name, a directory, a later voters’ list, a cemetery listing or other record might supply it.

Detailed reports of some club meetings may appear, especially in the local community news. It may be that the club in question played an important role in the community, as so many Women’s Institute chapters did, or it may simply be that the reporter belonged to the club and had an interest in its affairs. During the 1950s and 1960s, theBowmanville Statesman’s Long Sault column contained regular reports of the meetings of Club 50, a local social group. From a collection of these, a history of Long Sault could probably be written, and certainly if a researcher had a relation in Club 50, there would be plenty of detail for their biography to be gleaned.

Here is an excerpt from the Women’s Institute meeting reported by the Manyberries correspondent of the

Medicine Hat News
…best of all, two more members, Mrs. Strand and Mrs. Wieland answered roll call by turning in five dollars each which they had earned during the year for the W.I. funds.

The members then stood and sang “Ole Olsen” and enacted the jumping in this song for exercises. The names of all present and absent members were put in a hat and names drawn for a cup presented by the constituency convenor, Mrs. Gosselin. Mrs. Ethel Webster was the successful one and although not able to be present due to having threshers at her place, the pretty cup will be sent to her. (21 September 1935)

Later researchers will find it frustrating that the correspondent has not given full names, falling back on that familiar tone mentioned earlier. However, we learn that Mrs. Strand and Mrs. Wieland were particularly industrious (what had they done to earn the five dollars?) and that Mrs. Webster had the threshers in. Threshing was a time of hard work for the women as well as the men, preparing mountains of food for a crowd of hungry workers three times a day. The image of a group of staid W.I. members jumping and singing would make any genealogist happy, too.

Accounts of visits, paid or received, were the bread-and-butter of social columns.

Mr. Larry Smith returned on Saturday from Ottawa, where he has been spending a few days with his sister, Mrs. Elliott. (Collingwood Bulletin, 10 March 1927)
Mrs. Christianson, a sister of John Franks, Kimball, who has been spending a few weeks visit in Canada, returned to her home in Utah last week. (Alberta Star, 17 September 1909)
Mr. Charles Blanchard was among the out-of-town people who attended the funeral of the late William Hardill, of Peterborough. (Oshawa Daily Reformer, 7 January 1927)
Mr. A. McNair, who has been on a trip up to Lake Superior for his health, has returned home again greatly improved in health. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)

The question to ask if a familiar name is found in this kind of entry is

Are there connections I should know about here?

The sisters in the first two items are obvious connections. Blanchard may only have been a friend of Hardill, but there may also be a family connection. What was wrong with Mr. McNair? Among the items about people leaving and arriving will be those for students going away to school.

|William Brown, John Roger and William Good will soon leave to qualify themselves better in the profession of teacher. The first two go to the Model School, the last to the Normal. (St. Mary’s Argus, 1 September 1881)

This item poses a difficulty. What are the Model and Normal Schools and where are they? These were two names for teacher-training colleges.

There were several Normal Schools in Ontario, the nearest to St. Mary’s being in Stratford. A researcher wanting to follow one of these boys would have to use provincial records to determine first what these schools were, if they did not know, then where they were located in 1881.

The next step would be to ask if the records for the school in question were available. All these queries could be made at the provincial archives.

This item is a good example of a term so familiar to the newspaper’s readers it could be given in a truncated form (‘the Normal’) without anyone wondering what it meant, except the modern reader.

Even more useful for tracing wandering relations is the notice which records where they have gone to work, or simply that they have moved away.

Miss Annie Sled left on Friday for Nipissing Junction where she has accepted a position as teacher on the public school staff. (Nottawa News in the Collingwood Bulletin, 24 March 1927)
Miss V. E. Jenson left on Friday last for Alhambra, where she will resume her duties as school teacher on Monday the 10th inst. (The Province Innisfail, 22 February 1924)
The family of Mr. Noel Green have removed to Georgetown, and the family of Mr. Wm. McNeil have left for London. (Mitchell column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)

This sort of notice is good if all the information you have is ‘he went West.’ Often the news item will specify exactly where, or there may be notices of many people from a certain town all going to the same place in the West. It would be worth investigating if your lost relative went there too, as people tended to follow their neighbours when migrating. As the editor of theSt. Mary’s Argus noted in 1881, “People are leaving North Easthope weekly for Manitoba,” in the same column that he reported a group of sixteen people had gone there from Listowel.

Mr. B. Colter departed last week for Portage La Prairie, where he intends to settle for the remainder of his days. (Stratford column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)
John Campbell, son of Peter Campbell of Logan, has gone to South Africa. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)

If the migrants were given a send-off by their neighbours, the newspaper account can be transferred word-for-word to the family history:

It is regretted by everyone in Winnifred and district that we are losing Mr. and Mrs. Ross Beath and family. They are held in high respect by everyone and were always so ready and doubly willing to share in all the doings of Winnifred, especially in church work. Best wishes possible go with them in their new home. Mr. Beath bought a farm two miles from Battle Lake post office. Their new occupation will be dairy farmers, selling milk, butter and cheese—for a change from wheat farming in this locality, where we are without moisture for a great length of time. (Winnifred column ‘from our own correspondent’,Medicine Hat News, 11 October 1935)

An advantage of this item is that it answers one of the great genealogical questions: why did they move? Here, the Beaths were driven from wheat farming by the droughts of the 1930s, moving north to try dairying.

You may know that a relative went West, then returned. Determining the dates of the migration for his biography may be difficult, but both departure and return may be noted in the social column.

Mr. George Roy of Mitchell has just returned from a visit to Manitoba, and has not fallen in love with the country. (St. Mary’s Argus, 1 September 1881')

A good possibility for finding migrants from an area is when news of them appears in the social column, either because they have come visiting, or someone has gone to visit them, or simply because their news is being reported to their friends at home.

Mr. George Rice, formerly of Fullarton Corners, had all his buildings and furniture destroyed in the Michigan fires. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)

The unfortunate thing about this item is that it doesn’t specify where George lived in Michigan. However, elsewhere in the issue is a news item about the fires, which were extensive and warranted government intervention to compensate those with losses, so it would be an easy matter to use a larger newspaper, especially one from Detroit, to determine exactly where the fires had happened, narrowing it down to a few counties. From there, directories or census indexes would find where George lived.

Accidents and Illnesses

Accidents and illnesses provided many items of news for social columns, some serious and some reported for the diversion of the neighbours.

Dr. J. R. Porter was taken suddenly ill yesterday morning with appendicitis, and was operated on yesterday. His many friends will be glad to know that he is doing very nicely. The operation was performed by Dr. Hazelwood. (Oshawa Daily Reformer, 7 January 1927)}}
Drowned: while the steamer Moody was some three or four miles above Langley on her upward trip on Sunday last a passenger named Hugh McDougall fell overboard and was drowned. The steamer was promptly b-cked [microfilm scratched] and every endeavour made to rescue him but without success. The deceased was 32 years of age, a native of co. Aberdeen, Scotland but had resided for the greater part of his life in Wilmington, Kent, England, from which place he emigrated to this country. As this is the second case of this kind which has happened upon the river within the short space of three weeks, we would suggest that if any precautionary measures can be devised they should be adopted. (The British Columbian, New Westminster, 9 May 1861)
Mrs. F. D. Walley of Little Red Deer had the misfortune to be kicked by a cow on Monday last with the result that her arm was broken. She was brought to town where the bone was set. (The Province Innisfail, 1 February 1923)
The other day a cow belonging to Mr. Stratford near Donegal, fell feet first into a well thirty feet deep which contained four feet of water. The animal was taken out, and with the exception of a few bruises, received no serious injury. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)
Bow Island—The small daughter of H. Kjelgaard was quite sick on Thursday and was thought to have infantile paralysis. Friends will be glad to know this was not so and she is now quite well.(Medicine Hat News, 21 September 1935)
A vicious dog tore a new pair of garments belonging to Mr. Thos. McClay.(St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)

The McDougall drowning is useful because it predates civil registration, and the possibility that the body was never recovered means there would be no church burial record.

This newspaper item may be the only record of the death. A question raised is how the newspaper obtained the biographical information. It may indicate some family member lived in New Westminster or Langley, which would bear investigation.

The details may also be completely unreliable. It may be that a McDougall researcher would not think to look for Hugh’s drowning in this newspaper, simply because they did not know of his early death.

Fortunately, this newspaper was indexed in an umbrella volume of British Columbia newspapers and canny researchers will automatically check such volumes on the off-chance of finding something unexpected about their relations.

Both the cow in the well and the Bow Island stories make interesting details for a family history, without being very significant in themselves.

They add a good deal to making our ancestors come alive, however, reminding us that they had many tense days through accident and illness, more than we have in modern life.

The torn ‘garments’ belonging to Tom McClay were almost certainly trousers, but the vaguer term was a Victorian euphemism to divert attention from the fact that they were discussing a covering for his legs.

In Victorian times, people did not refer to legs (even pianos had their legs covered in some places), this being indelicate.

Letters to the Editor

One unexpected bonus occurs when a seemingly innocuous item provokes some reaction or comment which spices up the whole matter. A simple report of a child’s illness prompted her mother to write a letter to the editor:

Aberdeen, Feb. 20, 1924.

To the Editor of The Province:
Dear Sir: It has come to my knowledge that a series of rumors have been in circulation regarding the illness of my daughter, and attributing neglect or ignorance to Dr. Dorsey. In justice to him I shall be glad if you will publish the following facts.
There was an epidemic of scarlet fever in this district and the Aberdeen school was closed in consequence. Dr. Dorsey, as medical health officer of the municipality, went around and examined the children who were absent from school by reason of illness. He examined my daughter and found she had a slight sore throat. He told me to let him know if a rash developed, as a sore throat often preceded an attack of that disease. He did not examine the girl further or treat her in any way, and this was the only connection he had with the case. Yours truly, Mrs. Frank Laing.
(The Province Innisfail, 22 February 1924)

This would be of interest to both Laing and Dorsey researchers, and more information about the outbreak and about Dr. Dorsey’s difficulties might be found in the local board of health or school board minutes, if they have survived.

Agricultural and Business News

The rural social columns included a great deal of agricultural or business news which other farmers would want to know.

Mr. E. Schmidt of Sebringville has commenced to manufacture copper kettles for boiling cider for apple butter. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881
Mr. John Kelly, jr., of North Easthope, exhibited a flock of Leicester sheep at the Provincial which attracted considerable attention. One of them is an imported ram which took the eye of all sheep breeders. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)

News from fairs, town, county or provincial, provide a great deal of information for genealogists. The wide variety of competitions, involving livestock, fruit and vegetables, grain, flowers, handicrafts, baking and canning, were often reported in detail, with all winners’ names being given. From these lists, it is possible to learn that an ancestor had a great skill either in growing, tending or making.

Mr. McLagar of this town, got first prize for Flemish Beauty pears and the second for Bartletts at the Stratford show. (Stratford column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)

Politics and Schools

Local political affairs are always reported, and may contain items of interest. Decades-old politics is usually fairly dry reading, but sometimes either the subject or the way it is reported will be worth noting.

The annual school meetings of districts in this vicinity are over. The casualties are one black eye and a gashed cheek presented to the owner at the Red Raven meeting. (The Province Innisfail, 1 February 1924)

Rural schools ran their own business, two or three local men acting as trustees. Since the school was a matter of concern to the whole community, the annual meeting might attract a large crowd, and obviously feelings ran high at this one.

Most papers, even in towns, ran school results as news each spring. It is possible to find our relations listed, and learn their places in the class even if we do not have any surviving report cards. Some results list exact results, some indicate who passed, and some may be for special subjects.

Christmas exams in Union S.S. no. 6

Sr IV      Vera Vodden, Bill Scattergood
Jr IV      Jack Vodden, Norman Brown
Sr III      Allan Down, Amy Lysson*, Helen Lysson*
Jr III      Mavis Firth, Llewellan Goyne
II           Billie Goyne, Carl Down, Nick Lisson*

I           Olga Goyne
Sr Pr    Wilfred Scattergood
Jr Pr     Isabel Goyne, Marjorie Down
Name in order of merit. * (asterisk) denotes absent through illness.

G. Elizabeth Hancock, teacher.

(Oshawa Daily Reformer, 4 January 1927)

Report of the standing in Household Science for the second half of the school year is as follows:
Collegiate Fort 11A E.Bellinger 94; E.Allen 92; D.Mickler 91...
(Collingwood Bulletin, 23 June 1927)

In the first example, all three members of the Lysson family being absent through illness would indicate either some contagious disease had stuck them all, or one was ill and the house had been quarantined, which was common at that time for a variety of sicknesses which were ‘catching’. The Collingwood example lists exact grades assigned. Modern readers will notice that the grades had different names then: instead of being numbered from one to eight, Junior and Senior Primer, First, Second, Junior and Senior Third, Junior and Senior Fourth.

Sports

Although sports played a very small role in newspaper reporting in the early days, they gradually won a place in every paper. Most of the reporting, as we have noted, concerned professional sports at a national level, but in both the small weeklies and in the big dailies after 1950, we can find some local sports. Provided we know that a family member had some sporting experience, we might find it worthwhile to search for them in these pages. This is especially true when we find that a local reporter was sufficiently interested and talented in writing on the subject, because sports reporting is more personal than news reporting. The result can be stories which leave us with vivid descriptions, or quirky stories about our relations.

A hundred yards foot race between M. Carlyn and L. Larondelle, $2 a side, was the best feature in the sports. It was closely contested throughout and was only won after a hard struggle by Carlyn. (Edmonton Bulletin, 7 March 1881) 

This was one of a number of horse and foot races run that day, and is among the earliest of personal local stories in the Bulletin. The $2 prize seems in tune with the times, but a wrestling match proposed in The Alberta Star on 6 August 1909 and accepted, also in print, on the 13th, required the participants to post a $50 deposit for a $500 prize. This was enormous money for the time and place. It is interesting that the challenge was both conveyed and accepted through the newspaper, thus increasing public interest. In the Innisfail Province there is little sport, but the occasional reference is to the most popular of Prairie activities, curling. The sports which appear in the newspaper are bound to be those which most excite the local populace.

Advertisements and The Post Office

In pioneer days, when transportation was difficult and roads often unpassable, people went to the post office only occasionally. Letters were rare enough, anyway. It was customary for the postmaster to print a list of Unclaimed Letters in the local newspaper.

In this way, word would reach the addressees that they had mail, and they could call in for it. Even if they didn’t see the notice themselves, their neighbours would be bound to, and would pass on the message.

These lists have a very particular genealogical use. While it doesn’t matter that an ancestor got a letter in 1835, the fact that someone was addressing mail to him in the district at that time indicates his presence there.

If you are unsure when a relative arrived in a newly-settled area, this is one clue. These lists are easily spotted in the newspaper (they are often very long) and are also frequently reprinted in local genealogical newsletters.

Finally, the one characteristic every newspaper, old or new, has is the presence of advertisements. These may be of little interest, unless one of our relations ran a business which advertised, in which case a copy of the ad might find its way into the family history. Sometimes the ads will provide a little glimpse into the past, also.

Phipps Restaurant and Bakery
Apples Oranges Lemons Bananas
Strawberries and Celery on Tuesday
(Alberta Star,18 April 1908)

This one-day-a-week treat of the very perishable strawberries, even in April, must have seemed a miracle those who were usually confined to seasonal produce.

Castoria was a castor-oil based laxative for children, widely advertised and used in the between the wars period. One 1935 ad showed a crying child in a public place, and a disapproving older woman saying, “If he were my youngster, I’d use the hairbrush.” Spanking with hairbrushes was supposed to be a usual punishment in those days. The text for the ad said don’t give him a spanking, give him Castoria instead. Laxative as punishment! A laughable idea for the modern mind.

 Patent remedies which made large claims for curing many ills—Beecham’s pills, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Lydia Pinkham’s, eclectic oil—were the usual way of treating people’s various aches and pains. Whole pages of newspapers might be devoted to their ads, which took forms familiar to us, famous people endorsing them, or personal testimonials from others who had benefited from them.

Some newspapers would include items in the social or local news columns which looked like news but turned out to simply be small ads for patent medicines. An entire page of the six-page Nanaimo Free Press for 22 December 1930 consisted of these ads masquerading as news items.

This brief enough glance at the possibilities of newspapers outside the BMD column should convince even the most dubious researcher that they will be missing a great deal if they do not take advantage of scouring their family’s local publications for information. They are bound to be gratified, and find it fun into the bargain.


____________________________________________________________

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.


 

Need wiki, indexing, or website help? Contact our product teams.


Did you find this article helpful?

You're invited to explain your rating on the discussion page (you must be signed in).