Case Study: Using Old Newspaper Articles to Learn about Your Ancestors

Old newspapers provide the stories of our ancestors’ lives, helping to flesh out the names and dates on our family trees.

What kind of family history can be found in historical newspapers? Let’s pick a typical, ordinary family and find out.

For example, what can I discover about the Crofoot family that lived in Connecticut back to colonial times? Did they appear in the old newspapers?

Let’s see.

I’ll do a search in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the family surname Crofoot.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page for Crofoot

Let’s take a look at some of the surname search results.

Here is a wedding announcement article I found in an old newspaper for Ephraim Crofoot.

wedding announcement for Ephrim Crofoot and Elizabeth Winship, Connecticut Mirror newspaper article 1 May 1830

Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, Connecticut), 1 May 1830, page 3

OK. The core facts: Ephraim Crofoot married Miss Elizabeth W. Winship about April 1830 in Middletown, Connecticut.

Here is another reference to Ephraim Crofoot I found in an old newspaper death notice.

death notice for Esther Elizabeth Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 4 October 1848

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 4 October 1848, page 3

Ephraim’s daughter Esther Elizabeth, aged 17 years, died 29 September 1848. Calculating back, this means she was born about 1831.

OK. That piece seems to fit nicely in the family puzzle, since Ephraim was married the year before in 1830. Esther Elizabeth probably was the daughter of Ephraim and Elizabeth W. (Winship) Crofoot. We’ll need to do more genealogy research to confirm that.

Here is another old newspaper reference to a child of Ephraim’s: Thomas S. Crofoot.

death notice for Thomas Crofoot, Constitution newspaper article 25 August 1852

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 25 August 1852, page 3

This death notice tells us that Ephraim’s son, Thomas S. Crofoot, was 19 years, 4 months old when he died in August 1852. Calculating back, that would put his birth at about April 1833. Again, that fits Ephraim’s 1830 marriage.

There is another clue: this newspaper article refers to his father as “the late Ephraim Crofoot, Esq.”

So—had our Ephraim Crofoot died by August 1852?

More genealogical facts to double check.

But, look at this old newspaper article. It is another marriage announcement for an Ephraim Crofoot, to a Betsey Sampson.

wedding announcement for Ephraim Crofoot and Betsey Sampson, Constitution newspaper article 27 February 1850

Constitution (Middletown, Connecticut), 27 February 1850, page 3

Is this the same Ephraim Crofoot? A different Ephraim Crofoot?

Had something happened to Elizabeth (Winship) Crofoot? Had she died? Was there a divorce?

It takes time to piece together all the genealogical clues and facts that document a family tree. As you can see, there are many articles in old newspapers that can help us discover the stories of our ancestors’ lives.

In the weeks ahead I will continue to report on my findings about the Crofoot family and provide similar case study examples from other typical American families to help you better understand how to find newspaper articles about your ancestors—and how you can use them to fill in your family tree.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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