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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 ($).



Social Events

One thing that appears to be common of most newspapers is the comings and goings of the residents of the town. Learning who has gone to visit family or who is returning from vacation. The comings and goings of the townspeople may hold a clue to relatives living elsewhere, giving you another avenue in your research.

Social Items The Atlanta Constitution, September 2, 1910, Atlanta, Georgia.

Society Events

Similar to the social events there are also the society events. These are the reportings of the comings and goings of the rich, famous, infamous, and talked about residents.

Don’t dismiss these sections of the newspaper. While you may not consider your ancestor particularly affluent, it is possible you have underestimated the interest the community had in your ancestor.

The more time you spend working in a given community, working with city directories, census and other records, the more these names will become recognizable, and perhaps you may notice additional connections between individuals invited to a party or listed at some other gathering than just the simple fact that they were at the same event.

Church Events

Church events can mean almost anything going on at the church. Most of the time you will find mention in Sunday or Monday issues of newspapers about what has been going on and if they were having a guest preacher. Other times you may find that there is a special bizarre or other event.

If nothing else, going through the church sections of the newspapers will familiarize you with what churches were in the town and often where they were located. Many of the newspapers list the cross streets where the church stood in any mention of its events.

                                                           Church Gossip

The Rev. Edmund Gill, of New York, will deliver a lecture at St. John’s church, corner of Clay and Walnut, this evening at 7 o’clock. There will also be the interesting exercise of blessing the Stations of the Cross. These stations, as they are called, are large oil paintings, fifteen in number, and each four and one half by eight and one half foot and copied from the originals of the celebrated Paul von Deschweuileu.

The Courier-Journal
August 22, 1880
Louisville, Kentucky

Fraternal Organizations’ Meetings and Events

Our ancestors often joined fraternal organizations. They may have joined one because of their religious beliefs, or as a result of their occupation. There were many different benevolent and social organizations that are today lumped under the term fraternal societies. Learning what associations may have existed in a particular city or town may be possible through the newspapers of the area.

List of fraternal meetings in Chester, Pennsylvania Chester Times, February 12, 1883.

In the above example, we know that there were meetings of the:

  • Improved Order of Red Men (I.O.R.M.)
  • Knights of Pythias (K. of P.)
  • Philoatheans
  • International Order of Good Templars (I.O.G.T.)
  • Brotherhood of the Union
  • Sons of Temperance (S. of T.)

If you know that your ancestor was involved with the temperance movement in Pennsylvania, then it is possible that he was a member of either the International Order of Good Templars or the Sons of Temperance, which were both temperance societies.

You may also found out about certain members and if they are sick or have passed away. We have already seen an interesting memorial published by a deceased’s Masonic brothers, but you may also find notes on specific members listed under the fraternal organization’s section of the newspaper.

 ::::The Foresters

Brother Simon Sickles, the combative Secretary of Boone Lodge, is quite indisposed. The absence of Brother Sickles is much to be regretted, as the meetings are chaotic without him.

The Courier-Journal
August 22, 1880 Louisville,

The founding of given camps or lodges may help you in determining which lodge your ancestor may have joined. Announcements such as this one celebrating a first anniversary let you know that if your ancestor lived in the area for awhile, he likely joined a different camp or lodge though he may have transferred in to the newly formed on.

:::Their First Anniversary
Washington Camp, No. 43, Patriotic Order Sons of America, celebrated the first anniversary of the organization of their Camp last evening in their hall in the Penn building. After the business of the regular meeting had been disposed of, speeches were made by Edward Sisler, F.B. Kirby, T.H. Neal, William Ramsey and J.S. Greenawald. The Camp is in a flourishing condition and great interest is manifested in its workings.
Chester Times, February 2, 1883
Chester, Pennsylvania

Whenever you are working with newspapers, it is a good idea to keep in mind that there may be a slant in the reporting of that newspaper. And when it comes to fraternal organizations, there is at least one newspaper that was published to print news showing how bad the Freemasons were. It also published other information, but it looked for editorials and other news that put the Freemasons in a bad light.

Figure 26: Mason Murder This opening paragraph establishes the fact that the editor does not believe the Masons are good individuals. Anti Masonic Star, August 8, 1830, New Oxford, Pennsylvania.

Political Meetings While all newspapers will print information about those running for office or the results of the elections, there are also times when local meetings are announced and those involved in the group may be identified. This may help you in learning what political persuasion your ancestor followed.

Ward Executive Committee

    The Republican Executive Committee of the Middle ward met last evening at the City Hotel and organized by the election of the following officers:President—Paul Klotz

Secretary—Thomas Lees Treasurer—H.G. Pennell

    The delegates to the meeting of the City Executive Committee were elected as follows:

Northern Precinct—Paul Klotz, H.G. Pennell. Southern Precinct—Job Wheaton, Robert Auter. Chester Times, February 2, 1883 Chester, Pennsylvania

Gossip Gossip seems to be every where we go. It has been going around since there were two people to talk to each other about a third. And it finds its way into newspapers as well. In some instances the term was used to share additional information about other events. Where as the court listings may only mention the trials that are taking place, when looking at the Court Gossip section, you may find additional information about particular trials and how they are going or what certain witnesses said or what the lawyers did.

Gossip of the Courts

    James Curran, the wild Irishman who attempted to assassinate his wife on the day of election, was brought out yesterday for examination and the case again continued two weeks. His victim is unable to get out.

The Courier-Journal August 22, 1880 Louisville, Kentucky

Local news makes up a great deal of the paper, but there are still many other important things to be found through the pages of the town’s source of news about their town and the world


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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.