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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 ($).
Ethnic and Religious Newspapers
Ethnic and religious newspapers fill a need in those who read them. For many, the ethnic newspapers gave them a sense of normalcy after they had immigrated to the United States. In fact it has been suggested that the newspapers they read in their traditional or mother tongue actually helped to Americanize them, as they learned about the United States in a way that was easier for them. Through the newspaper they not only were introduced to the new world they had come to but also kept in touch with the world they had left behind. Few immigrants wanted to forget the old country and having information from home was a comfort.
Religious newspapers also filled a similar void, the one that supported the religious beliefs of the denomination’s members. An editorial in a mainstream newspaper may go against the beliefs of a religious sect. Having their own newspapers allowed them the opportunity to stay informed without perhaps being offended by other items in the newspaper.
The term ethnic is more appropriate though you will often hear these newspapers referred to as foreign-language newspapers as well, especially in genealogical resources. Actually referring to them as foreign-language newspapers is not as accurate. The language is not foreign to those who were reading it, though you may need a translation dictionary to help you work through the issues.
Many of the published ethnic newspapers come out of the various ethnic organizations that have existed throughout the United States for as long as there have been individuals immigrating.
Just like mainstream newspapers, ethnic newspapers listed vital statistics, such as the obituaries seen here, society, and other news. Missions-Vännen, October 21, 1880, Chicago, Illinois.]
Newspapers such as Missions-Vännen, which translates to Mission Friend, were actually a combination of ethnic and religious. The newspaper was published by the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church and was published in Swedish. It included information on members from all over the United States.
The first ethnic newspaper to be published in the United States was Die Philadelphische Zeitung by Benjamin Franklin in 1732. Much like the main stream newspapers, since that time there have been many ethnic papers to come and go. Not surprising, the increase in ethnic publications is directly linked to the increase in immigrants. There was a marked increase in such newspapers, published by religious, ethnic fraternal organizations as well as individuals just wanting to get involved in publishing a newspaper, during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Because there was such an influx of immigrants during this time, the focus of many of these ethnic newspapers reflected the issues the new immigrants were facing. A look at some of the ethnic publications to come over the years, we see that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were just a few newspapers, but by the late 1800s, there was a wide variety of ethnic newspapers addressing the needs and issues of many different immigrating ethnic groups.
- 1739, Germatauner Zeitung (German), published in Germantown, Pennsylvania
- 1776, The New York Packet and American Advertizer (Irish), published in New York
- 1789, Courier de Boston (French), published in Boston, Massachusetts
- 1823, The Jewish Journal (Jewish), published in New York
- 1847, Nordlyset (Norwegian), published in Muskegon, Wisconsin
- 1847, Skandinavia (Scandinavian), published in New York
- 1849, L’Eco d’Italia (Italian), published in New York
- 1884, Slavenska Sloga (Serbian), published in San Francisco, California
- 1886, Ameryka (Ukrainian), published in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania
- 1887, A Uniao Portugueza (Portuguese), published in Oakland, California
- 1887, Arekag (Armenian), published in Jersey City, New Jersey
- 1891, Chinese World (Chinese), published in San Francisco, California
The above list is just a few of the newspapers that began to sprout up as the immigrant tide increased, bringing individuals from every conceivable country to the United States in search of a better life. By the year 1917, the number of publications that were in existence was 1,323. However, there were many more that had already come and gone. Between the years 1884 and 1920 there were 3,444 ethnic newspapers published, and 3,186 had been discontinued by 1920, many of them within months or a couple of years after first being issued.
Those ethnic newspapers that are still being published naturally have evolved with the times, no longer catering to the immigrants as much as continuing the traditions and heritage that is so much a part of the specific ethnic group.
One misconception about ethnic newspapers is that they did not publish the type of news that was found in mainstream newspapers. While they certainly catered to the readership, they did publish general news, but from the ethnic view point. Just as we saw with the mainstream newspapers, the ethnic newspapers had society columns and gossip.
African American Newspaper
The society column was not unique to mainstream newspapers. The Commonwealth, August 21, 1915, Baltimore, Maryland.
The Commonwealth, while short-lived having been published from July to September, 1915, did share news with the African American community, including the comings and goings of society.
Another ethnic group that researchers often ignore when it comes to looking for newspapers is the many different Native Americans. However, many of them had their own newspapers in their own language.
The Cherokees had the Cherokee Phoenix, begun in Georgia in 1828, as a weekly. In 1844, when the Cherokees were in Indian Territory, which eventually became part of Oklahoma, they were irregularly publishing the Cherokee Advocate. This newspaper concentrated on local news, but did also have national and international highlights. Some of the articles were even translated into English.
The Dakota, more commonly known as Sioux, also had a newspapers, Iapi Oaye, which translates to the Word Carrier. This was published in the Dakota language, though in 1884, they did begin to publish a separate English section, in essence making it two distinct papers.
Native American Newspapers
Native American newspapers such as the Iapi Oaye, December, 1871, Dakota Mission, contained the news of the tribes people and should be checked when researching Native American ancestry.
In many ways the religious newspapers fulfilled a similar need in its readership that the ethnic newspapers did. The news was often devoted to the activities of the members of the particular denomination.
A positive aspect of this is the fact that while an obituary in a mainstream newspaper might be more closely akin to a death notice, whereas the same mention in a religious, or ethnic newspaper, may include much more information about the history of the deceased. Even if you find a death notice in a mainstream newspaper, it is a good idea to investigate possible religious or ethnic newspapers if appropriate to see what else might be learned.
One important thing to remember about the religious papers, especially those that began to enter the population in the early 1800s, is that the ministers saw them as a way of spreading religion, as the country began to spread. They saw it as an ideal way of spreading the “Word of God” especially to the Native Americans, as well as reminding their members of their religious duties.
Whereas mainstream newspapers report the news, some unbiased and others with a political or merchandising agenda, the religious newspapers reported the same news as it related to the beliefs and rituals of that particular denomination.
Perhaps not surprising, like the ethnic newspapers, many of the religious newspapers that were launched would live a short life. Few of those who supported the religious newspapers financially would see any profit. Most would see losses and continued to support them for as long as they could, demonstrating the devotion they often had to the project.
In addition to finding obituaries, the religious newspapers offer a close up look at the views of the time and how the religions did influence the followers, including the literature they read, the musical or theatrical shows they watched and even the politicians that they voted for.
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 email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.