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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: Occupational Records  by Beverly Rice, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


The options for this source are many and varied. From the birth announcement with not much information, to the detailed obituary or the biographical sketch of a family or individual; the newspaper is a wealth of information. This source is easy to read with no difficult or hard to read handwriting. However the down point is that newspapers are not often indexed, they require a page by page search for information.

The first step would be to locate the newspapers available for a specific location. There is an ongoing program for preservation of historic newspapers. The following Internet site will keep the researcher updated on the historic preservation projects in each state.

United States Newspaper Program

Newspaper collections are often located at local historical societies, public libraries and universities. Many of these records are microfilmed and can be obtained through the interlibrary loan program. There is often more than one newspaper per area, including daily, weekly and monthly publications.

The publication of an obituary was often within one week following the death of an individual. The prompt posting was to announce the funeral or memorial services. If the obituary is not located in the normal time frame, the researcher has several options available:

  • another daily newspaper in the same community
  • a weekly or monthly newspaper in the same community
  • a religious newspaper
  • an ethnic newspaper
  • a business journal, if the person was prominent in a specific field
  • a newspaper in another community where the person might have relations
  • extend the search date (I have located obituaries 6 weeks after the death of an individual).

For the smaller towns this is much easier, or the large cities the search can be more difficult and often the information less informative.

Obituary for Alex M. Rosencrantz


Note the difference in the occupation listed on the birth certificate (Alex as the father) above and the obituary (Alex the individual). If the obituary had been the only source for the person’s occupation then it would have placed him as an owner/operator of several furniture stores. Quite a difference and it would ignore the changes in an individual life and the changes in the times.

If you compare the census records for Alex M. Rosencrantz for 1910 and 1930 [not located in 1920] with the obituary the same conflict occurs. The need for further documents is necessary to resolve this difference from owner/operator of several furniture stores to a retail-clothing salesman.

Biographical sketches or feature article are not typically focused on an occupation unless some aspect of the occupation is unique. However, most sketches will identify occupations when writing about an individual.

There are many opportunities for an individual, couple or family to be mentioned in a newspaper, they did not have to be famous or from high society, although it helps.

If you are searching for feature articles, focus your research on the local weekly newspapers or trade association publications where the national or state news is not a priority.


If a person owned a business in a town, check out what they had for sale. If you are researching a store then document what was for sale at their local store, it can give more meaning to their occupation.

The Coos Bay Times, Marshfield, Oregon, November 8, 1908, Coos Bay Public Library, Coos Bay, Oregon.

Coos Bay20Z.jpg

Do not pass over newspapers because of their lack of indexes. They can be a good source of information of the most unusual type.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Occupational 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.