33 Different Things You Can Find About Your Ancestors By Searching Old Newspapers

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I love searching old newspapers and have become addicted to searching them. And the majority of this website is dedicated to helping you get the most out of newspaper research.

Looking for obituaries is rather obvious, but what other things can one find in these sometimes one hundred or hundred and fifty year old pieces of paper?

Here’s a list of items that you may or may not have considered:


  1. Politics – in older newspapers, precinct captains and precinct workers were named; several of my own ancestors participated in helping people vote.
  2. Society – in smaller towns and even larger cities, the society pages listed attendees at parties of all kinds.
  3. Vacations – before the advent of air conditioning, in warmer climes, folks would travel to resorts, springs, and other spots and the names of the travellers were often listed.
  4. Out of area travelers – many older newspapers welcomed temporary residents with their names in the paper, listing the hotels they were staying in, their permanent residence (city), as well as the families they were visiting if they were staying in their home.
  5. Advertisements – many residents were quoted as having been cured by a variety of “interesting” remedies (my great grandfather was one). Often photos and other descriptive information were included.
  6. Classified ads – often you can find your ancestors names in the “want ads” as either selling something or if they owned a business – trying to hire a new employee.
  7. Sports – if an ancestor was an athlete of any kind – possibly he would be cited in a baseball box score for college, high school or a local semi-pro team; or in an article regarding many other sports.
  8. School graduations – lists of graduates are often listed for as early as elementary school through high school and college.
  9. School news – lists of honor roll members, and other school events.
  10. Military articles – did your ancestor join the Army or go to war? Often there are articles about them, as well as where they were stationed and promotions they may have received.
  11. Lodges and clubs – announcements of new members, or officer lists as well as upcoming meeting schedules are often published.
  12. Church articles – welcome articles naming new church members or invitations to special services or events.
  13. Real estate transactions and transfers – did your ancestor transfer real estate to another family member or buy/sell a property?
  14. Engagement announcements – Often an announcement of an upcoming wedding would be found in the society page and many times a photo of the bride-to-be.
  15. Legal Notices – did your ancestors get divorced or sell or transfer a business? These are often found in legal notices, including bankruptcy notifications or other legal matters, including wills and estates.
  16. Divorce proceedings – lists of couples who were in the various stages of divorce are often listed in the Vital Statistics section.
  17. Personal notices – illnesses, visitors, celebrations of all kinds are often mentioned in the Society section.
  18. Anniversary celebrations – 25 and 50 year anniversaries often were rewarded with an article announcing the accomplishment, as well as a recounting of the celebration party and the attendees.
  19. Death notices and obituaries – obvious help to researchers to name children, siblings, “native of” information, etc.
  20. Birth announcements – although the child is rarely named – his parents are and that can be helpful, especially if a child only lived a few years and you have the death announcement; the child may be one of many children in the family, and you are trying to sort out which dates belong to whom.
  21. Mail – list of unclaimed mail can often be found in smaller town newspapers. Useful to determine if your ancestor had moved away.
  22. Local crime – in addition to articles about the more serious or “colorful” crimes, there often are listings of more petty crimes, such as burglaries or home/business break-ins.
  23. Political cartoons – In the 19th century, photographs were rarely included in newspapers – so drawings of the likenesses of people were included, especially for politicians.  I have several of these for one of my ancestors who was a State Senator.
  24. Missing persons – since in the 19th century telephones were certainly not abundant, stories about missing persons were often written.
  25. State or county fair winners – did your ancestor enter food, livestock, plants or crafts at the fair?  Lists of winners and their submittals and awards are listed.
  26. Theater and television – lists of actors and actresses in vaudeville, other theater as well as early television are often mentioned in articles. I have a couple of those in my tree, so these articles add depth to their life stories.
  27. Union activities – lists of trade union officers are often mentioned as well as their activities and scheduled meetings.
  28. Land applications and sales – generally in the legal section – these might include notices from the Department of Interior.
  29. Professional directory – was your ancestor a doctor, lawyer, nurse, contractor, or embalmer?  They might be found in these directories which are frequently published.
  30. Marriage licenses and announcements – when a license is issued, usually the names and addresses of the couple are mentioned. Also when the wedding occurs, often the event is listed as well, but not always. And of course there may be a detailed article about the wedding with a citing of many of the attendees.
  31. Taxes owed – often lists of taxes owed to the city or county are listed. It is surprising to find an ancestor owing 3 dollars to the county for taxes.
  32. City and county government meetings – minutes of these meetings are published and names are mentioned of the commissioners or supervisors as well as those who have conducted business during the meeting. If your ancestor had a claim due from the government entity for work performed, these lists are also available often.
  33. Letters to the editor – was your ancestor outspoken? Did they often write a letter to the editor of the paper that was published?  I have a few in my tree.

So – check out old newspapers – my idea of genealogy fun! See what you can find. You might be amazed!

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6 thoughts on “33 Different Things You Can Find About Your Ancestors By Searching Old Newspapers”

  1. Marybeth Wells

    I have found some as old as 1720’s to some one in Iowa finding something for me as of 1899 because they remembered the odd name of Sheckles to 1930’s. on a story in published in a contest. Love news paper stories. They make the family come alive.

    1. Kenneth R Marks

      Thanks Marybeth. That is amazing that you found articles that old. Yes they do make the family come alive!

  2. Lisa Sullivan Taisey

    This is an excellent article filled with items I never even thought of. It’s a keeper for my brickwall file if you don’t mind. It always seems that whatever I am looking for I can’t find. (Free of course) I pay for ancestry and never had much luck with newspapers there. On Facebook there is a great group called the Cork Genealogical Society and they had a link to Co. cork newspapers and I was browsing thru 1847 and spent hours looking at the papers. It was horrible. It was about the famine and the hardships of that time. I can’t even begin to describe the horrors of it. Even though I did not find what I was looking for, I got a free history lesson.

  3. I decided to just read the local paper for my ggrandparents town around the time that they left England. I found ads for voyages to the US with pricing, time tables, etc. That led me to search for the ship they came over on to see what the advertisements said. That led me to a sight dedicated to the ships that sailed from Norway to the US with all ports in between. I read about the conditions on the various types of ships that sailed during the 19th century. Can you imagine taking a voyage of an unspecified length of time and all your own provisions for the trip? Food was not provided. Because of weather these trips could take months. The insight in to what they endured was as moving as seeing their name.

  4. Julia (Frock) Mckinney

    I have a lot of trouble going through old newspapers because of my last name. My family’s last name is Frock and I really don’t care to read about all the dresses and things. It makes it really hard to concentrate on what is on the page and I am sure I have probably missed a lot of things.

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