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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 US: Newspaper Records by Rhonda McClure. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Miscellaneous But Valuable News Stories
More News Than You May Have Thought
Perhaps because today’s newspapers mention only the big news not only in our community, but also across the country and the world, we have conditioned ourselves to dismiss the newspaper for our own genealogy, and this is especially true when we get beyond the expected announcements of marriages, deaths, burials and in some instances births. In reality though, newspapers are full of many mentions of our ancestors or of groups or events in which our ancestors were involved.
Newspapers give us insight into life as it was at that time. While still driven by advertising, the newspapers of old often held more personal information than we find in today’s equivalent.
In addition to vital statistic information, you will find newspapers contain stories on
- Local news
- Biographical sketches and historical items
- Legal notices
- Public announcements
- Shipping and other business news
- Migration news
Some of these topics are still included in today’s newspapers, but you may find that more was shared in the past than today, especially when it comes to local news.
As the name implies this is the news of the local community. Depending on the size of the newspaper or the number of towns it covered, you may find that there are separate sections for townships or unincorporated towns near the larger city in which the newspaper is published.
Over the years, local news has run the gambit, including news of every kind and some news that isn’t necessarily considered hard core journalism, including:
- Family News (comings, goings, illnesses)
- Voter and tax lists
- Jury lists
- School events
- Social events
- Society news
- Church functions and news
- Fraternal organization meetings and events
- Political meetings or gatherings
Not all of these items will give you identifying information so that you can determine parents or spouses. Some news items will give you more of an understanding of why your family may have left an area or why a family member you have discovered was never mentioned.
Papers of the 1800s had more family news in them than we often find today, with the exception of smaller papers. From personal experience, I find this news to be some of the most interesting. There is insight into character and sometimes even interaction between family members that can be learned from such stories. At the very least you often find out how a community feels about your ancestor from such news stories. Sometimes the family news published was an extract from a letter, while other times it was a story about a person or family.
| New York, August 7. Extract of a Letter from Albany, dated July 24, 1758.
Sometimes to story is sharing a happy occasion, such as a milestone birthday.
Octogenarian Chester Times, February 2, 1883, Chester, Pennsylvania.
Honoring those who have lived a long life is often one of the things that we do find a lot of in the news stories. Even when the purpose is to highlight the age of the individuals, we still often find some interesting tidbits to aid our research or that astound us.
Longevity Gettysburg Compiler, March 21, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Though these women were being honored because of their age, we find that we have a place of birth, though just a country for one woman, and we also learn that that they were in good health and still took care of their own homes. Give that this article was published in 1821, their extreme age is even more amazing.
In general, when we find such items in the newspaper about an ancestor, we can be pretty sure that the person was well respected in the community. Though they may not give us much in the way of basic genealogical information, they do help us to put flesh on the bones of our ancestors long ago come and gone, giving us the chance to know them a little better.
Voter Lists and Tax Lists
Because voting and taxation happened more frequently than census enumerations, and may help you in determining when your ancestor arrived or left a town or county. In the case of the tax lists, it may also help you in determining if your ancestor owned land.
Not all newspapers included this information, but if you do find them listed in a given issue of the newspaper, you may try looking at issues for the same period of time in years before and after the date in which you found the first mention.
Courier-Journal Tax List
Courier-Journal, December 16, 1880, Louisville, Kentucky.
Unfortunately as this sample shows, there are times when the newspaper is hard to read, perhaps because the newspulp has begun to discolor or because of the way it was microfilmed, or the condition of the microfilm. The more time you spend in newspapers, especially those on microfilm, the more you will find that you need a little extra patience because of the trouble you may find in reading every issue.
Jury lists are not always posted for every trial or group of trials that took place in a given community. In some instances you will find that they are only mentioned on some of the larger trials or because the jury requested that the decision be published in the newspaper.
| Georgia, Hancock County, Superior Court, April Term, 1820. We the Grand Jury of the county of Hancock … present William F. Scott … of this county, for keeping a public tavern without a license—witnesses, John S. Bailey and John F. Martin. We present James Daniel … for fighting on the 29th day of January, 1820—witnesses, Walter Hamilton … We present Jonathan Roach and Jesse Jones of this county, for fighting on the 27th day of December, 1819—witnesses Dixon Hall and William G. Springer … We also request that our presentments be published in the Georgia Journal. (Signed) Samuel M. Devereux, Foreman. Thomas Thweatt, Philip Turner, C.W. Callier, John E. Denson, Edmund Jackson, Nathan Morris, Osborn Rogers, Cyprian Wilcox, James Simmons, Hugh Taylor, John B. Simmons, Edward Abercrombie, Green Mitchel, Edwin Wiley, John Johnson, Joseph Roberts, Thomas Barns, John Barns, Burwell J. Wynne.
In some counties, the jury for the given term was published in the newspaper. In some instances the town from which the jurors came from would also be indicated, which might help you in knowing where in the county the family lived, and may help you in knowing where to look for burials or churches that the family attended.
August Term Jury List
Anti Masonic Star, August 18, 1830, New Oxvord, Pennsylvania.
There are times when the jury is listed as part of a general news story rather than a legal posting. With cameras in the courtrooms now and privacy issues, we find fewer mentions of jurors by name than in the past.
In addition to finding it interesting that the jurors were listed in this news item, the reason for the trial is intriguing.
Where Are the Women?
One thing to remember when working in jury lists is that until well into the 1900s, you will not find women serving on juries. This shift came after women began to get rights, having had to fight for them for many years, so until they had them it was unusual to find a woman serving on a jury list.
School events may be found in many different places in a newspaper. Depending on the type of school or the news in question, will often affect where an editor decides to put the story.
| —Tea at the Wright-Humason School.— The Wright-Humanson School, 42 West Seventy-sixth Street, of which Helen Keller, the blind and deaf girl, is a pupil, will give a tea this afternoon from 4 until 7. Helen Keller has made a world-wide reputation by her accomplishments and the sweetness of her disposition. It is only within the last year or so that she has been able to speak. She now converses readily, although to her affliction of blindness is added that of lack of hearing. The other pupils of the school, who are also without the sense of hearing, will assist in receiving the guests.|
Because this tea was more a way to tell the community of the special student at the school, it was understandably posted in the society column of that issue of The New York Times.
Other notices about the school term beginning or the teachers who are appointed will be found in other sections of the newspaper. Often you will find though that the notices about schools are found in the pages of local news, which in some newspapers is everywhere that is left after the editor purchased the preprinted cover.
| $90,000 Needed to Run County Schools Next Year Teachers Appointed at Meeting of the County School Board Held at Deland Monday Evening.
This short excerpt of the list of all teachers for Volusia County, Florida that were appointed that summer before the fall term in 1913, gives the names of each teach and her grade. While this doesn’t give you much in the way of age or other identifying information, notice that all of the teachers mentioned were single females. It was not uncommon for a single woman to travel to another town, county or state to get a job as a teacher and there meet the man she would marry. While the marriage may take place in her home town, they often moved to his town of residence to set up their home and begin their life together.
If you have found a marriage announcement that indicates the groom lived quite a distance away from the bride, it is possible that she was a teacher in his town, and school lists such as this may help you in proving that.
School news always reminds of how unfair it was for women. They were often denied any schooling whatsoever, and if they did receive some basic education, college was usually out of the question for many. This attitude is brought to full attention when reading this next school announcement.
| University to Have Record Attendance
Fall Term Will begin on Wednesday, September 21.
New Smyrna News, June 20, 1913, New Smyrna, Florida.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.