6 Hidden Gems in Old Newspapers to Browse

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If you are a historic newspaper research aficionado like me, then you know that you have to try anything and everything to find articles about your ancestors.  Because of scanning and OCR quality issues, you can’t always rely on the ever present search box  You must add browsing to your repertoire.

In either case, whether searching or browsing, there are hidden gems in old newspapers if you know where to look.  Here are 6 great examples:



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Job Ads – If you don’t know your ancestors occupation, the 
“Positions Wanted” section can be very useful.  In this example, I wanted to know my grandmother’s occupation.  She had just moved from Brooklyn to Oakland, California in 1910 and I suspected that she was looking for work.  Lo and behold, this article popped up and showed me that she had stenography and typing skills. Even her address and phone number!

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Advertisements – You never know what you will find in advertisements.  In this example, my great grandfather was a spokesman for some miracle cure.  And the bonus was that there was a photo of him. (By the way the miracle cure didn’t work – he died of stomach issues two years after this advertisement was published).

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Legal Notices – did your ancestors have a business? Transfer a business?  File bankruptcy?  I have had all of those situations with my ancestors.  In this example, essentially my grandfather’s business was sold to his two sons and the article was found in the legal section. 

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Sports and Baseball Box Scores – did your ancestors play sports?  There might be articles in the Sports section. If they played baseball at any level, there might be a situation where their names shows up in a box score, as is the case with my ancestor in this example.

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Lodges, Clubs and Societies – was your ancestor a member or an officer in a lodge or club? There were sections in old newspapers that had meeting schedules and articles about elections of officers.  

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Real Estate Transactions – often titled this or “Recorder’s Office”, this may give you insight as to buying and selling of land and property by your ancestors.


The moral of the story is – look beyond obituaries and other vital statistics such as marriages, divorces and births.  There are lots of “hidden” sections in old newspapers that will give you clues about the lives of your ancestors.  And you might have to employ browsing of these special sections to find them if searching for names doesn’t yield you the results that you want.
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4 Comments

  1. Great ideas for us to remember. It is sometimes hard to read the small print and comb through those very long newspaper columns of yesteryear, but it is so worth it. (Old newspapers were very large!)
    I was thrilled a few years ago to find my great-grandfather’s name as an officer in the IOOF. And to find the notice of sale of the property of a great-great-grandfather after his unexpected death.

  2. I noticed on GeneaBloggers that your blog anniversary is today and I just came by to say, happy anniversary and thank you for your excellent posts about newspapers. Here’s wishing you many more years of great blogging.

  3. In our local paper in the early 20th century, they published the grades of students, by school and by class. Not only do you get an idea of the academic prowess on your ancestor, you can also see with whom they attended school (and in my case find other relatives)! You can only imagine trying to do that today…

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