My Ancestors’ Life Stories as Told in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shares some of the family stories he’s learned about his ancestors by searching old newspapers.

Stories are what make our family trees and all the work we do in our genealogy truly come alive! If you are like me, the stories about your ancestors were the initial spark that ignited your interest in conducting your genealogy research and discovering the amazing stories of your family’s history. The old family stories you discover and preserve also spark the interest of others to begin their own genealogy work, or perhaps to carry on your family history work.

The stories of the lives of our ancestors can come to us from a variety of sources. Many come firsthand from our elders and other members of our extended family, often aunts, uncles, and cousins who enjoy sharing all kinds of memories. Another great place to find the stories of our ancestors is in old newspapers, which is a big reason why I keep on subscribing to GenealogyBank.com. Let me tell you some of the family stories I have found in newspapers.

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The Charvat Family Tragedy

Of course there are the sensational stories that capture the attention of the reporters. I happened to come across one of these while working on a branch of my family tree recently: the Charvat family. After going through the more mundane aspects of genealogy such as census records, I moved on to newspapers and found this 1951 article. It was a true tragedy.

Not only did this unfortunate little girl of 14 lose her mother to murder and her father to suicide, but the story related that she “tiptoed to her door and opened it when she heard her father and mother arguing. She saw them struggling over a shotgun. She saw shooting.” The article goes on to say that the mother and father had argued previously over the husband’s desire for his wife to “follow the European way by staying home.”

From a genealogy perspective, this article not only provided quite a bit of information on the deaths of the parents, but also informed me of the jobs of those parents, that they only had the one child, gave the name of the grandmother, and the home address that matched their listing in the 1940 U.S. Census.

Girl (Corrine Charvat), Orphaned by Murder, Suicide, Is Shock Victim, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 July 1951

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 July 1951, page 4

Joseph Kapl & Minnie the Elephant

There are also the extremely humorous stories you find occasionally. One of my all-time favorite funny stories that I discovered in the newspapers was this 1915 article titled “I Fed Her; I Petted Her; I Trusted Her; But Never Again!” This story detailed how my ancestor, Joseph Kapl, was a zookeeper who was entrusted with the care of Minnie the elephant at the old Brookfield Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. It seems that Joseph was attacked and almost trampled by this elephant! Now there is a story you don’t read every day in your genealogy! You can read more about this humorous family story in my previous blog post “Family Search Uncovers Circus Elephant Story.”

article about zookeeper Joseph Kapl, Plain Dealer newspaper article 23 March 1915

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 March 1915, page 4

From Banking to WWII

There are also some wonderful articles that I have found in newspapers’ Business Section that are filled with valuable family history information. One example I found is this 1943 article, which continued my work on my Kapl family line. This old news article provided me with some very nice details regarding the career of Joseph H. Kapl, who was the son of the zookeeper. It seems that Joseph must have decided that banking would be safer than dealing with elephants!

Kapl Is Head of Branch, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 January 1943

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 January 1943, page 9

Going back further in time, I learned about another ancestor from this 1896 newspaper article. In this historical news article I discovered that my great grandfather, Joseph Vicha, was an officer of the Central Labor Union—and he not only addressed a crowd of striking garment workers in Cleveland, but he did it in “Bohemian.” All key pieces of information for our family tree.

article about Joseph Vicha, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 April 1896

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1896, page 10

Even an apparently mundane newspaper article can hold genealogy treasures for us as well. This 1942 article about registration for WWII included a list of inductees from the previous week, which included one of my cousins, Allan R. Evenden. This tidbit of information allowed me to begin researching his military records for our family tree.

article about WWII registration of soldiers, Plain Dealer newspaper article 5 April 1942

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 5 April 1942, page 33

Grandma’s Letter in the Cleaning Column

Another article I discovered even caused me to chuckle a bit. This 1961 article came with the pretty bland title of “Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots.” It just goes to show you never know where in the newspaper your ancestor might turn up!

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It turns out that my grandmother, “Nana,” had written in to the cleaning column in the newspaper asking how to remove dark spots in her new cement breezeway. She said in her letter “I thought it needed a good sweeping, but I have scrubbed with soap and swept, but it is no different.” I actually laughed out loud when I read that since my mind went back to my many visits to my grandmother’s home, at her request, to apply yet another of her home remedies combined with lots of elbow grease to try and get those spots out of her new cement. I guess Nana was using the equivalent of the Royal “we” when she said “she” scrubbed and swept those spots.

Bleach Ineffective on Cement Spots, Plain Dealer newspaper article 2 September 1961

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 2 September 1961, page 41

I could continue on and on with many more family stories I’ve discovered in the newspaper archives through the years, but instead I’ll ask you: what are some of the best stories you have uncovered in newspapers that now bring your family tree to life?

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Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

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Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

New Genealogy Search Tools! Search for Ancestors by Date in GenealogyBank

We heard you.

A number of our GenealogyBank members have written us and requested some new features to make it easier to search for your ancestors by a specific date or date range. We are pleased to announce that these new date genealogy search tools are now live on GenealogyBank.

These enhanced date searching features include multiple options to narrow down your family search.

GenealogyBank search form with Date Range option selected

GenealogyBank search form with Date Range option selected

Search the Date Range Your Ancestor Lived

With the “Date Range” button checked, you can search a range of years of genealogy records.

This is the most common search on GenealogyBank.

You will want to use this option to narrow down your search to the time period your target ancestor lived.

This genealogy search tool is also handy for limiting the number of records so that you can thoroughly review all search results in manageable increments.

Search a Specific Date

Notice that you can check the “Date” search radio button and it opens up more options for you to fine-tune your ancestor search.

GenealogyBank search form with specific Date option selected

GenealogyBank search form with specific Date option selected

If you enter a specific date or year in the Date box, a pop-up menu gives you a number of search choices. The default search is for +/- 10 years of the date you entered. If you click on the blue check mark next to this option, these other choices pop up for you to select (+/-):

  • 5 years
  • 2 years
  • 1 year
  • Exact

You can enter the date you want to search for in a number of ways. For example, you may search for:

  • 1842
  • January 1842
  • Jan 18, 1842

Be as precise as you want to be in your date search criteria. This feature can save you loads of time while searching for genealogy records in a specific time period.

Sometimes you are not sure of the exact date an event took place; in that case, you can simply enter the year.

Perhaps you want to browse through all of the issues of a newspaper for October 1878. Now, it is easy to do that.

Or search for your ancestors on an exact date in history.

In Colonial America it was common for an obituary to appear weeks after a person died. Perhaps there were articles about an accident, extended illness or the gathering of family members. There may have been other articles about an engagement, plans for the coming marriage, the marriage itself, and then the honeymoon. Simply plug in the specific date or year of the event you’re interested in and ask GenealogyBank to search all articles in both directions: the time leading up to and after the event.

These handy new date genealogy search tools will save you huge amounts of time and focus your ancestor searches.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

GenealogyBank’s “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic

GenealogyBank has a fresh new look with enhanced search features to help you find information about your ancestors faster. We created this GenealogyBank “Guide to Searching for Your Ancestors” Infographic to quickly introduce you to some of our recent website improvements so that you can get the most out of your ancestor searches.

Click here for the larger Infographic version.

Simple Search

To search all of the records available for your ancestor in our online archives start at the GenealogyBank homepage and do a simple search for your ancestor’s first and last name.

Advanced Search

If you’d like to narrow your ancestor search click the “Advanced Search” link in the lower right next to the “Search Now” button for expanded search options. The Advanced Search allows you to include and exclude keywords, as well as specify dates.

About Our Ancestor Search Options

1.      Ancestor’s Last Name

Enter the last name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try different name spellings and use wildcards to increase results (ex. Carol, Caroll, Car*).

2.      First Name

Enter the first name of the ancestor you are searching for. Try using different variations of your ancestor’s first name to increase search results (ex. William, Will, Bill, Wm.).

3.      Include Keywords

If you are looking for a specific type of record and wish to decrease search results enter a relevant keyword such as your ancestor’s occupation, university, hometown, etc.

4.      Exclude Keywords

If your search results contain irrelevant records for your ancestor, try narrowing your search by excluding keywords. For example, you may choose to exclude all records from a particular U.S. state by entering the state’s name.

5.      Date

If you know the date or date range of the records you would like to retrieve about your ancestor enter it here. For example, search a date range spanning years of birth to death (ex. 1850-1930).

 6.      Added Since

Use this handy feature to save you time. This drop-down menu lets you search only the new material added in the last month, sixty days or ninety days. This can be a real time-saver. If you’d like to search all the records, you can still do so by selecting “the beginning.”

New! Search Genealogy Records by Type

Now you can search genealogy records by type so that locating the specific record you are looking for is quick and convenient. Here is a list of some of the genealogy records now searchable by type:

Give us a ring at 1-866-641-3297 if you get stumped in your ancestor search. We’re always here to help. Enjoy using the newly redesigned site to find your ancestors!

Genealogy Search Tips for Ancestors’ Names: Less Is More

Beginning genealogists sometimes write us and say: “I put in the correct information for my search—full name including middle name, birth date, last known place of residence, etc.—everything I know about my ancestor, and yet I found no matching records. I did this search for a few other ancestors after I was told that there was no record of death. I have seen these names on the Social Security Death Index before. How come I can’t find that information now?”

Be flexible in your ancestor name search

What you want to do is limit your family searches to the basic, essential information, typing in just enough to find your target ancestor without getting back too many hits.

For example, your ancestor’s full name might have been John Henry Thompson—but the editors of the newspaper simply called him “Bif Thompson,” the name he was known by in the community for the past 30 years.

The Social Security Death Index has records for 4,266 persons with the first name “Buddy,” 25,947 records with the first name “Tommy,” and one record for a person named “Bif.”

Now Bif, Buddy and Tommy just might be the first name on their birth certificates, but it is more likely that these are a nickname or the diminutive form of their formal name (for example, “Tommy” for “Thomas.”)

When these people’s names are indexed there is no way to know that “Bif Thompson,” for example, was actually “John Henry Thompson.”

There are over 1.3 billion names in GenealogyBank, and we index them exactly as the names appeared in the original record. So you want to be flexible in how you search for a name.

Search using only your ancestor’s surname, limited by date range if necessary

Most surnames are unique. You will learn by genealogy research experience if a search using only a surname will generate too many hits. If it does, then limit your search by a range of years—for example: 1950–1975. That will usually enable you to pull up just enough search result hits so that you can locate your target ancestor.

picture of the GenealogyBank search form for surname "Starbird" between the years 1950-1975

GenealogyBank search form for surname “Starbird” between the years 1950-1975

By searching for all persons surnamed Starbird from 1950–1975, you will then find all of those records regardless of whether the editor included their first name, middle name, initials, or nicknames.

Give the surname search, limited by date ranges, a try.

Revolutionary War Graves List

Get the most out of GenealogyBank!

The annual reports of the DAR – Daughters of the American Revolution are in GenealogyBank. They were published annually as part of the US Serial Set.
I didn’t know that was in GenealogyBank!

One of the important contributions that the DAR has made over the past 119 years is their effort to locate and document the grave of every soldier that served in the American Revolution.

Each year the DAR published the details of the soldier’s graves that they had located the previous year.

It’s a terrific resource for genealogists.

Discover your heritage, preserve it and pass it on!

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Find and document your ancestors in GenealogyBank – the best source for old newspapers & documents on the planet.

Period!

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The Old Pioneers …

Our town just celebrated “Old Home Days” – other towns call it Pioneer Day; Settler’s Day – where the old stories are told and lives well lived remembered.

Towns across America will be celebrating their heritage this summer and newspapers will be interviewing the “old timers”.

Newspapers are a good source for finding the interesting stories of what life was like when they settled in the area; their first job; the flood; the war; the successes and all of the other milestones in their lives.

Discover your heritage, preserve it and pass it on!

Be a part of GenealogyBankSign up Now.

Find and document your ancestors in

GenealogyBank – the best source for old newspapers on the planet.
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Michael Jackson (1958 -2009) You’ll Only Find Him on GenealogyBank’s SSDI

If you’re looking for Michael Jackson in the SSDI – you’ll only find him on GenealogyBank‘s copy of the Social Security Death Index.

Why?
Because GenealogyBank is the ONLY site that updates the SSDI every week.

Be a part of GenealogyBank – Sign up Now.

Find and document your ancestors in GenealogyBank – the best source for old newspapers on the planet.
Period!
Thank you to Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak for alerting me.
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