Searching old newspapers is my favorite genealogy research activity. Why? Because it helps me to discover the stories of my ancestors’ lives.
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 is a list of 40 of the most common types of information published in newspapers:
Business ads make up the bulk of this category of newspaper articles. Other interesting ads include local residents who were quoted as having been cured by a variety of “interesting” remedies. Often photos and other descriptive information were included.
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.
In the Legal section, announcements of personal or business bankruptcies were published. Also, announcements that people were no longer responsible for others’ debts in circumstances of divorce or dissolution of business partnerships.
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.
Business Sale or Transfer
In the Legal section, whenever a business was sold or transferred to others, an announcement was published.
Naming new church members or invitations to special services or events. Also, articles announcing upcoming events, or an article after the event occurred.
City and County Government Meetings
Minutes of 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.
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.
Clubs, Lodges, and Associations
Officer announcements; scheduled meetings and events, and meeting or event outcomes are published.
Death Notices and Obituaries
Obvious help to researchers to name children, siblings, “native of” information, etc.
Lists of couples who were in the various stages of divorce are often listed in the Vital Statistics section.
Often an announcement of an upcoming wedding would be found on the society page and many times a photo of the bride-to-be.
Separate from obituaries, these announced when and where a funeral was scheduled.
Visitors from out of town as well as locals living in hotels were documented.
Land Applications and Sales
Generally found in the legal section, these might include notices from the Department of the Interior.
Did your ancestors get divorced or sell or transfer a business? These are often found in legal notices, including bankruptcy or other legal matters, including wills and estates.
Letters to the Editor
Was your ancestor outspoken? Did they often write a letter to the editor of the paper that was published?
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.
Lodges and Clubs
Announcements of new members, or officer lists as well as upcoming meeting schedules are often published.
A list of unclaimed mail can often be found in smaller-town newspapers. Useful to determine if your ancestor had moved away.
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.
Often the anniversary of a loved one’s passing is published as a memorial.
Military Articles or Service
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.
Since in the 19th-century telephones were certainly not abundant, stories about missing persons were often written.
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 homes.
Illnesses, visitors, and celebrations of all kinds are often mentioned in the Society section.
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.
In older newspapers, precinct captains and precinct workers were named; several of my own ancestors participated in helping people vote.
Was your ancestor a doctor, lawyer, nurse, contractor, or embalmer? They might be found in these directories which are frequently published.
Real Estate Transactions and Transfers
Did your ancestor transfer real estate to another family member or buy/sell a property?
Lists of graduates are often listed from as early as elementary school through high school and college.
Lists of honor roll members, and other school events.
If the location of the newspaper was close to a port, announcements of ship arrivals (name of the ship, debarking port) were published.
In smaller towns and even larger cities, the society pages listed attendees at parties of all kinds.
If an ancestor was an athlete of any kind—possibly he or she 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.
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.
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.
Theater and Television
Lists of actors and actresses in vaudeville, other types of entertainment theater as well as early television are often mentioned in articles. These articles add depth to their life stories.
Lists of trade union officers are often mentioned as well as their activities and scheduled meetings.
Before the advent of air conditioning, in warmer climes, folks would travel to resorts, springs, and other spots, and the names of the travelers were often listed.
The local, as well as major cities’ daily weather or weather forecasts, were published.
There are many other types of articles, but all can contribute to learning about your ancestors’ life stories.