How to Use My 5 FETCH Goals for Newspaper Genealogy Research

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how he uses the acronym “FETCH” to remind him of his five goals when using historical newspapers for his family history research.

The beginning of a New Year is always such a grand time! Everyone is celebrating all that we accomplished in the year gone by, planning and resolving for the coming year, and looking at that clean slate of a whole year that stretches before us.

You can even see this feeling come through in an article published way back in 1791 in this Massachusetts newspaper, with its rousing opening sentence: “To our country, brilliant hath been the year that is just expired.”

And the centuries-old newspaper article ends with this wish: “Events have verified the fondest predictions of the friends of the General Government—and whilst we most cordially congratulate our countrymen on them—we devoutly wish that in the Year, this day commencing, they may experience a consummation of similar and more extensive BLESSINGS!”

New Year's Day, Columbian Centinel newspaper article 1 January 1791

Columbian Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 January 1791, page 126

The beginning of a New Year is also a perfect time to do some planning for your genealogy, ancestry, and family history. This was brought to my mind recently when someone asked me: “Scott, I see you using historical newspapers in your genealogy all the time. What are your goals when you do this?”

It wasn’t a hard question to answer since on the corner of one of my computer monitors I have a little piece of paper with the word FETCH typed on it as follows:

  • Focus on the 5 Ws
  • Expand out
  • Take your time
  • Capture all your leads
  • Have fun!

FETCH serves as a daily reminder to keep my top 5 goals in mind when I use newspapers in my genealogy research.

I use this acronym because every morning during my school years my father would begin his day by kindly asking: “Hey Scott, would you please fetch me the newspaper?” Years later I taught our wonderful Labrador retriever, Cinder, to fetch the newspaper. Now I am old-school and still enjoy the feeling of newsprint and ink in my hands, and like getting my printed newspaper at the end of my driveway each morning. So FETCH works perfectly for me!

Dick and Jane comic strip, Springfield Union newspaper 15 July 1984

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 July 1984, page 55

Let me expand a bit on how FETCH reminds me of my 5 research goals.

Focus on the 5 Ws: The five Ws of journalism are: who, what, where, when and why. Read my earlier blog article Newspapers: A Brief History, the 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them to learn more about the importance of the 5 Ws in newspaper reporting, and why that rule is a Godsend to our genealogy work.

While there have been attempts to change the 5 Ws, as you can see in this 1946 article from an Illinois newspaper, they have stood the test of time and we as genealogy fans benefit from Who, What, Where, When, and Why every time we open a newspaper article for our family history research!

MacDougall Spreads Theory [about Journalism's 5 Ws], Daily Northwestern newspaper article 16 January 1946

Daily Northwestern (Evanston, Illinois), 16 January 1946, page 3

Expand out:Another one of the benefits of using newspapers in your genealogy work is the fact that by nature newspaperwomen and men are inquisitive, so the “E” reminds me to expand out from what or whom I was originally looking for in that article since it’s quite likely more material was included than I was expecting.

Take your time: Like the sports figures in this 1916 Ripley’s cartoon, I always do my best to take my time when I login to GenealogyBank. There is simply so much to learn and take in from adjoining articles, etc., that the time spent in old newspapers for your genealogy is never, ever wasted!

Ripley cartoon about Father Time, Idaho Statesman newspaper 31 December 1916

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 31 December 1916, Section: second, page 4

Capture all your leads: Again, the inquisitive nature of newspaper reporters can pay genealogists huge dividends since reporters often provide us with all kinds of family history information in their articles. Names, ages, family, friends, addresses, maiden names, and historical tidbits abound in old newspapers, and are there for the taking to help us move through our work!

Have fun: Being a genealogical historian, I love historical newspapers for all they have to offer in my genealogy. By taking some time for fun I learn more too! Looking at old advertisements, reading the news of the times of our ancestors, and becoming more accustomed to how language and words were used in days gone by can reap huge rewards in all aspects of our family history and genealogy. Plus it is impossible to pass up the chance to read some of the old comics such as Pogo, Mandrake the Magician, Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father, and so many others, like those I recently found in this 1930 Georgia newspaper.

comic strips, Augusta Chronicle newspaper 1 January 1930

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 1 January 1930, page 7

So as you work on your genealogy remember first to FETCH your GenealogyBank.com newspapers. Then delve into the family history treasures that you will be sure to discover and enjoy!

How the 5 Ws & FAV(orites) in Newspapers Can Help Genealogists

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains how he adds his own personal touch to the “5 Ws” (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of newspaper journalism to enliven his family history research.

Recently I wrote here on the GenealogyBank.com blog about how much I love the 5 Ws (Who, What, When, Where & Why) of good, high-quality newspaper reporting for my genealogy and family history work. There is little better than finding an interesting article in one of the thousands of GenealogyBank.com newspapers that contains your ancestor’s name, and then topping that off by finding that the reporter adhered to the newspaperwoman/man’s mantra of the 5 Ws. Most decidedly, to me, it just doesn’t get much better than this! However, since none of us genealogy-crazy folks ever leave something well enough alone, I like to add my own FAVs to the 5 Ws. Now, while I know this won’t win me a Pulitzer or anything, my FAVs do help my family search efforts.

My FAV(orites) are this: Fun, Adventure, and Value.

First, FUN: One of my key precepts as a genealogist is that we must always keep the fun in our work. If we hope to attract the interest of others to genealogy and family history, one of the easiest ways to do this is by making it fun! Whenever I am doing genealogy research in newspapers I am reminded that my father always began his day, every day, with the funny pages of the newspaper. Although a businessman through-and-through, he said the news and business of the day could wait while he started his day with a smile and a chuckle. I have wonderful memories of my dad in his crisp white shirt and tie, coffee mug in hand, and seeing his eyes sparkling as he laughed at the funnies. So it is from these vivid memories that I keep the fun in my genealogy in a variety of ways. One of which is that whenever I am searching old newspapers I make sure to check the funnies.

If nothing else I enjoy seeing how some of my favorites have changed over the years, like good old Dagwood Bumstead of the “Blondie” comic; I found this example in a 1938 newspaper. That day’s comic featured a coal-fired furnace (like my grandparents’ home had), old-fashioned telephone switchboard (which I recall from my old hometown), and much more all in one comic. Times like this give me what I call “a minute vacation” and the fun refreshes me for the work ahead.

"Blondie" comic strip, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper 11 December 1938

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 11 December 1938, page 115

Second, ADVENTURE: I also love discovering in old newspaper articles the adventures that our ancestors had. As a matter of fact, just two days ago I was beginning my genealogy research on the Fortelka family branch in our family tree when I discovered Frank Fortelka aka “The Bohemian Cyclone”!

Pugilism: The Cyclone Will Fight, Plain Dealer newspaper article 11 April 1895

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 April 1895, page 3

Not only did I get to follow The Cyclone’s career as a boxer, but also his career after that when he became a member of the “thin blue line” as a police officer for the city of Cleveland, Ohio. I also learned that The Cyclone was known to use his fisticuffs abilities against ne’re-do-wells in that city, often being reported to take on groups of twenty or more, successfully subdue them, and bring them to justice—with only his fists! Wow, talk about a real-life adventure and superhero! Then I got treated to his photograph, along with his wife’s picture for good measure, in a 1947 newspaper article about the golden wedding anniversary of The Bohemian Cyclone and his wife.

Ex-Boxer and Wife Married 50 Years, Plain Dealer  newspaper article 26 October 1947

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1947, page 16

Third, VALUE: Another of my mantras in my genealogy work is to capture the persona, not just the data, of my ancestors. I believe that nothing adds more value to my family tree quite like the insight into the real persona of my ancestors that I gain from newspaper articles. I find great value in newspapers’ photographs, in-depth information, stories, and articles on the times my ancestors lived, and much, much more. The last time I looked at my family tree I found that I have more than 320 newspaper articles attached to the profiles of my family members and ancestors! Now that is what I call adding value. Of course, while I love the value these impart to me, I am even more thrilled when their value is realized by others.

For instance, whenever I get to share a newly discovered newspaper account about one of our ancestors with my 93-year-old Mother I get to see the happiness in her eyes and hear the excitement in her voice. Now that, my friends, is adding real value!

photo of Scott Phillips' mother

From the author’s collection

So tell me—what do you add to the 5 Ws in newspaper journalism as you work on your family tree?

Newspapers: A Brief History, the 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains why newspapers’ use of the “5 Ws” is tremendously helpful to genealogists.

A Brief History of Newspapers

Thank goodness the world of news reporting switched from hand-written Avvisi—which were some of the first hand-written newsletters that appeared in Europe—to the first printed newspaper, or Bao zhi—which was printed in Beijing, China, in about 1582 during the late Ming Dynasty. Ever since their mass production began, newspapers have been a staple of our lives and they are certainly one of the most valuable resources we as genealogists can access, learn from, and utilize in our genealogy research.

The Five Ws of Newspaper Journalism

However, the real reason newspapers are such wonderful and useful resources in genealogy, I believe, goes all the way back to Hermagoras of Temnos, a 1st century BC Greek rhetorician. According to my limited research, this fellow is credited with being the first person to propose the importance of what has now become the mantra of good newspaper reporting: the “5 Ws.” So let me here and now say: thank you, Hermagoras of Temnos, on a job well done!

Still taught today, the 5 Ws of “who, what, where, when and why” remain the gold standard of good journalism.

The more one thinks about it, the more obvious it may become that this mantra fits better than O. J.’s glove when it comes to our family history work. It is also why my family tree is chockablock with information and articles from GenalogyBank.com.

My Great Grandfather Was Robbed!

One particularly interesting example of the 5 Ws at work is the article I found on my great grandfather from an 1898 newspaper.

Vicha Held Up, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 24 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 November 1898, page 3

As you can see, the very first sentence offers me all 5 Ws by telling me my great grandfather (even giving me his employment for good measure) was robbed for a loss of $1.35 on Forest Street on Tuesday night. There you have all five: Who (Joseph Vicha), What (robbery), Where (on Forest Street), When (Tuesday night) and Why (for $1.35). I love that this old newspaper article has lots of great genealogical information and a nifty snapshot of a day in the life, albeit a bad one, of my great grandfather.

My Cousin’s Home Was Attacked during a Strike

Another example of the 5 Ws being clearly presented, although not in the first sentence of the article, is one I discovered about my cousin in a 1911 newspaper.

Woman Declares Life Is in Danger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 September 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1911, page 4

This historical newspaper article describes how my cousin Anna Tussel’s home was attacked during the confrontations over a garment workers’ strike (her house was sprayed with tar, “blackening the windows and doors”). This article provides another snapshot of an ancestor’s life and gives information on her home address at the time, and more.

The use of the 5 Ws can also be a huge help in ruling out similarly-named folks, through the reporting of addresses, middle initials, employment, and more.

My Sister’s Wedding

Plus every so often you can also get a little treat closer to home, as I did when I was working on a branch of my in-laws and a newer article caught my eye. This article from a 1967 newspaper treated me to a nice account of my own sister’s wedding. Given that my brother-in-law and his parents have now all passed away, it was especially nice to get all the information contained in this old newspaper article.

Karen Phillips Married to David Berry, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 June 1967

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 June 1967, page 117

So dig into those newspaper archives and when you find your next great article join me in thanking Hermagoras of Temnos!