Are You Researching Genealogy’s Biggest Clues Machine?


I was thinking the other day about evidence and clues and the difference. I am not going to expound about primary or secondary sources, the Genealogical Proof Standard, evidence analysis, or original or derivatives, etc. I am not qualified to do that.

What I wish to talk about are clues. Clues we can get from different types of resources – documents, discussions with relatives, old letters, photos, and even sub-standard family trees on tree sites – and many others.

The richest source of clues are often considered to be census records. Yes indeed – they are chock full of clues – they provide us with where folks lived, who they lived with – and if we believe the census taker and census information provider – who folks are related to. Yes – censuses are certainly rich.

But I think there is an even bigger “clues machine” – and that is old newspapers. Ah – you say – this from a guy who focuses on newspaper research and even has a page dedicated on this site entitled Newspapers, and yes that page has 50 articles about searching newspapers and almost 100 articles with research links and tutorials just about that subject. So yeah – I’m biased.

But think about it – marriage license announcements in the newspaper are a clue that someone may (or may not) have gotten married. And birth announcements tell us about the son born to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe – and often have the date as well as the name of the hospital. These are clues. And obituaries? Wow – the names of siblings, which are often the first clue to a woman’s maiden name if you only know her married surname. And maybe where they were buried, among many other “clues.” And of course where and when they passed. More clues.

And also important – beyond names and dates – what about the life stories of our ancestors? The clubs they belonged to; the vacations they took;, the schools they graduated from; did they commit a crime or were a crime victim; did they win anything at the state or county fair; were they a boxer or a bridge player? These are all clues that add to their life story.

All this “stuff” can be found in old newspapers.

And yes – in my biased opinion – old newspapers are the biggest clues machine in genealogy. With the rapidly increasing number of digitized and online newspapers being added every single day – many of them free – you are really missing out if you are not using this resource.

Much of the time you have to start with clues before you can get “evidence.”   And getting clues from every possible resource should be one of your research goals.

So you need to research newspapers – genealogy’s Biggest Clues Machine. You’ll be glad that you did. And I’m here to help.


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