Researching Newspaper Archives


How many of us check the morning newspaper and read the obituaries? If you are a genealogist you do it all the time. When doing research, newspaper archives are an extremely helpful resource. By checking the newspaper archives for the town you are doing research on you will uncover all sorts of information about your ancestors and the lives they lived.

Newspaper archives have columns on social events, court cases, military appointments, business dealings, inclement weather and other local news snippets. In addition to the date and place of death, newspaper obituaries usually contain information on surviving and predeceased family members. Often there is information regarding employment, membership in clubs and associations or military service. Death notices will usually give the name of the mortuary or funeral home and many times the address of the deceased. Use the date of an event such as a death as a starting point for your research. Often your ancestor's demise was recorded in the local newspaper even if you thought their life was unremarkable. Often obituaries will give the names of all those who attended the funeral service, giving you new clues to follow. Did your relative commit a crime? Newspapers that are local to the area can provide a wealth of information covering trials and sentencing.

As with all forms of research, remember to back up your sources. If you find reference to a court case, try to locate records to prove your findings. If you have an obituary with names and addresses of properties try to locate those mentioned on census records, manorial records and land grants. If you find reference to a military career, search for military records, appointments, information on the battles that may have been fought, medals awarded, injuries suffered and living conditions during military campaigns. You may be able to find details of probate based on the names of the siblings named in an obituary or even the notice of probate in the daily paper.

Newspapers of yesteryear are a great source to discover how our ancestors lived. Local papers had extensive coverage of day to day happenings including local celebrations, bankruptcies, probates, market days, politics, church happenings and the mention of out of town visitors. Imagine how wonderful it would be to read an account of a party given by one of your family members. Social events were very important to small villages and were covered extensively by the local newspaper. Have you ever looked at the classified ads in an old newspaper? Our ancestors used these ads to find governesses, servants and to advertise their businesses. It is also a lot of fun to look through the ads to compare the cost of good then and now. All these things give added colour to your story and help you understand how your family went about their daily lives.

If you are doing research on a family who immigrated to foreign parts you may be lucky to find mention of your family in passenger lists that were printed in the newspapers of the day. Often there is added information about the voyage that might not be given in other passenger records such as which town or city the person was traveling to.

The first place to check for archival material is the newspaper offices in the town or village that you want to base your research in. Many newspapers have their own archives or they have donated their past editions to the local library. Family history societies are also good sources for newspaper archives. Use a computer search engine to locate archive material that is online. Many universities and libraries are involved in digitization projects that are searchable online and can be downloaded for free.

Even if you don't find any reference to your ancestor in the newspapers you will still find enough information on the area that he lived and worked to give your family story added life and substance. Beyond that, newspaper archives are offer a fascinating peek in to the past, start reading and I guarantee you will get sidetracked and imagine yourself living in those days of yesteryear.