Newspaper Research Tip – 6 Ways to Not Screw Up

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Finding information and articles in newspapers about your ancestors is incredibly rewarding.  It is my favorite type of research, genealogy-wise.

But if you are not careful you can make assumptions about what is in ink on the newsprint and foul up your research because of poor conclusions.

And it is easy to do, correct?  We fall into the trap of assuming that if it is published then it must be right.

So let’s be careful out there.

Here are 6 ways to not screw up:

  1. Just because the obituary states that your ancestor was a “native of” Boston, Massachusetts doesn’t mean that they were born there.  He may have lived there for decades, or maybe his parents moved there when he was 3 months old and everyone assumed he was born there.  So just because the obit states the city that he was a “native of” does not mean he was born there.
  2. There is a section in the Vitals area of the newspapers for Marriage Licenses.  So your ancestor or research target is listed there with their intended spouse. Guess what – the operative word is “intended.”  Just because they got a license does not mean that a wedding took place.. You have more research to do.
  3. Divorces Filed and Interlocutory Decrees are NOT Divorces. Only Divorces Granted count.
  4. Don’t assume that all articles are going to be in the newspapers of the state of residence for your ancestor.  If your target lived near the state border, check out neighboring state newspapers. For example, if they lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, check out the Omaha, Nebraska papers.  Or if they lived in Camden, New Jersey, check out the Philadelphia newspapers. [Thanks to a recent reader for this tip].  Furthermore, interesting articles were copied all over the country.  My 3rd great uncle obtained possession of Geronimo’s knife and the article was in papers in several states as a human interest story.
  5. If you are searching for a woman, don’t just search for her given name and married surname.  Often women who were adults and married were written as Mrs. Robert Smith rather than Gladys Smith for example.
  6. Just because the obituary states that burial is to take place at Mountain View Cemetery doesn’t mean that they were actually buried there.  There may have been a last minute change of plans by the family.  Or Mountain View was later closed and the gravestones and remains were moved to another cemetery.

The bottom line is that one should not assume that everything in the newspaper is correct.  These examples are just a few where improper conclusions can lead to documenting inaccurate facts and furthermore, wasting time in future research.


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2 Comments

  1. Reminds me of that expression, believe none of what you read and half of what you see. Enjoyed this post and the great tips contained in it. says:
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