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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 Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


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

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.

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:

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.

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

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.