For the 12 Days of Christmas: 12 Types of Newspaper Articles for Genealogy Research, Part I

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena gives examples of six types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Well if you’re like most of us your family history gift would be finding more mentions (or perhaps just one mention) of your ancestry. Instead of geese a-laying or the partridge in a pear tree, you want to go straight to the genealogy happy dance where you celebrate finding that newspaper article about your family.

The ways in which your ancestor could be listed in the newspaper are endless – but there are some go-to articles you should be regularly looking for. It’s important to be knowledgeable about what newspaper articles can assist in your search so that you know what is available and what you should expect. Will your ancestor be mentioned in each type of newspaper article listed below? No, many factors determine whether a person is mentioned in any one type of article, but you should still keep your eye out for the following article types.

In honor of the 12 Days of Christmas, this article will take a look at 12 genealogically rich newspaper article examples – starting with these first 6 that provide the basic facts about a person: their birth, marriage, and death. Tomorrow, in Part II, we’ll look at 6 more types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research. All of these examples were found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

1) Birth Notices

A person is born and the newspaper publishes an announcement, right? Well, sometimes.

birth notices, Republic newspaper article 5 January 1909

Republic (Rockford, Illinois), 5 January 1909, page 4

In some cases a birth notice at the time of the birth might be found in the newspaper. However, even though newspapers report current events, in some cases a birth notice may not appear until sometime much later than the actual birth. At first read that doesn’t appear to make much sense, so let me explain.

One example is the case of delayed birth certificates, when a notice appeared in the newspaper notifying the public that a person had filed for one – and that notice included their birth date. What is a delayed birth certificate? These are a type of birth certificate issued to those who were born before the mandatory use of birth certificates, or for those whose birth was not registered at the time of the event. Obtaining a delayed birth certificate was especially important after the implementation of Social Security and during World War II.

Look at some of the samples in this article. In the first one, the person was born in 1898 – yet was requesting a birth certificate in 1944!

article about delayed birth certificates, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 29 December 1944

Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 29 December 1944, page 12

Genealogy Tip: Birth announcements are likely not to include the name of the child, so search instead for the parents’ names or just the last name.

2) Engagement Notices

An upcoming nuptial may lead to numerous mentions in the newspaper, starting with an engagement notice. These notices may or may not include photos and will likely provide a little bit of information about the prospective bride and groom.

This 1922 Alabama newspaper column of engagement notices includes an example showing how much family information these notices sometimes provide: the Hertz-Friedman announcement reports the place of residence for the bride’s father, the groom, and the groom’s mother – both her current and former locations.

Engagement Announcements, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 4 June 1922

Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 4 June 1922, Society Section, page 16

Genealogy Tip: An engagement notice might be in several newspapers, including the newspaper where the bride or groom live and the newspapers where their parents live. So make sure to not limit your search to a single city.

You never know what kind of information you will find in the newspaper. I particularly like this appraisal of the bride and groom found in the above notice for the Knowles-Johns engagement:

Miss Knowles is a popular member of the younger set and endeared herself to her friends by her charming personality. Mr. Johns is well known in Montgomery and holds a responsible position with the A. C. L. railroad.

Remember that an engagement notice – like the issuance of a marriage license – does not mean that a wedding actually took place. It’s important to continue your search and seek out proof that the wedding occurred.

3) Wedding Announcements

We sometimes get so used to the way a newspaper is laid out that we may miss newspaper articles that appear to be something else entirely. For example, this 1919 Nebraska newspaper article is entitled “Festive Bridal Array Again Here.” At first glance this appears to be an article about wedding fashion – but it is really a wedding announcement for two couples that begins with a comment about the return of festive wedding attire since the end of World War I. The announcement goes on to tell us about the two couples and where they currently reside.

wedding announcements, Omaha World-Herald newspaper article 2 February 1919

Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 2 February 1919, page 29

4) Anniversary Announcements

Celebrations for couples that have been married for 25, 50 and even more years are often documented in the newspaper. The great thing about these articles is they may include the wife’s maiden name as well as the names of the couple’s children and grandchildren. Frequently, photos of the happy couple accompany the article as in this example from a 1955 North Carolina newspaper which includes the couple’s street address, the number of children they had (though unfortunately not their names), and the bride’s father’s name.

article about the Elkins' 50th wedding anniversary, Greensboro Record newspaper article 25 October 1955

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 25 October 1955, page 13

5) Divorce Notices

Birth and marriage are a fact of life – and so too is divorce. All types of court actions can be found in the newspaper, including notices about divorce cases. Think divorce is a modern-day issue? Nothing could be further from the truth. In the United States, the first divorce occurred in colonial America. If you think people didn’t do that back in the “good old days” – yet your research shows a spouse that suddenly “disappeared” – consider the possibility of a divorce.

The name of the divorcing couple might be found in a newspaper article listing court cases to be heard, or in a legal notice seeking a hard-to-find defendant. While only the most notorious or infamous of divorce cases warranted a longer newspaper article, these smaller mentions are important because they can lead you to further research in court records.

divorce notices, Columbus Daily Enquirer newspaper article 29 October 1922

Columbus Daily Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia), 29 October 1922, page 8

6) Obituaries

Obituaries are a staple in genealogy research. One of the first sources many family history researchers check, obituaries can be a hit or miss proposition. When you can find them they can range in length from a single line to multiple paragraphs with a photo.

obituary for F. Lenwood Scott, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 28 January 2001

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 28 January 2001, section B, page 7

A few tips are in order when looking for obituaries. Remember that in some cases the obituary may have been preceded by notices involving the illness of the deceased or reports of an accident. These types of mentions would be more common in small communities. If the death was due to an accident or crime, search for articles detailing that event and then the coroner’s inquest or court trial that presumably followed. Like engagement notices mentioned above, obituaries may be found in multiple newspapers including where the deceased lived and the city they were from originally. Also take into consideration that a close relative may have also decided to place the obituary in their local newspaper as well.

So were you familiar with these six types of newspaper articles? These are just some of the newspaper articles where your ancestor might appear. In tomorrow’s article we will explore six other types of newspaper articles that fill in the details of your ancestor’s life.

Related Articles:

Wedding Belles! How to Find Your Ancestors’ Marriage Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips for finding your ancestors’ marriage records in old newspapers.

When romance is in the air, newspapers report it in many surprising ways. By searching old newspapers, you’ll find copious details about your ancestors’ engagements, rehearsal dinners and weddings!

photo of a bride in her wedding dress

Photo: bride in wedding dress, 11 September 1929. Credit: Infrogmation; Wikimedia Commons.

Newspapers Provide Shower & Wedding Details

You might even find old newspaper articles on wedding showers, such as this one from 1910, when Grace (Floyd) Kannaman’s friends surprised her with one. Even though the wedding had already occurred, they couldn’t resist more festivities.

They dined on frappes and wafers, while entertaining themselves with the games “Ring on the String,” “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button,” “Jenkins Up,” and a clothes-pin race. Color-coded gifts were accompanied by poetical dedications, and recipes were pasted in a blue-bound book to become her “infallible household guide!” What a treasure that recipe book must have been to receive – and a great family heirloom to locate if it’s still around!

article about Grace Floyd's bridal shower, Sedan Times-Star newspaper article 1 September 1910

Sedan Times-Star (Sedan, Kansas), 1 September 1910, page 1

Notice how the wedding of Mr. Le Grand C. Cramer and Miss Nellie Almy was described in the following newspaper article as a virtual feast of details. This lengthy historical news article names family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, the officiant and even the organist – and you get to read about the magnificent pearl and diamond earrings bestowed on Nellie by her groom.

Her bridal costume “consisted of a very rich Velour white-ribbed silk dress with court train, the front breadth elaborately trimmed with flowers and tulle, and the remainder of the dress also elaborately trimmed with waxed orange buds and tulle.” There was a matching veil and extraordinary gifts abounded. An imported camel’s hair shawl was “very cheap at twelve hundred dollars” and of the solid silverware “there seemed to be no end, either in quantity or variety.” The article went on to say that “Those who ought to be good judges say that no bride in this city has ever received such a large quantity of elegant presents as have been bestowed upon Mrs. Cramer.” (I imagine that was an understatement!)

wedding  notice for Le Grand C. Cramer and Nellie Almy, Providence Evening Press newspaper article 17 November 1871

Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 17 November 1871, page 2

The elite are usually proffered prime newspaper coverage for their weddings – but even if your ancestor wasn’t a society belle, you’ll likely uncover intriguing details and descriptions of her wedding.

In 1897, this wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch reported that the church was “crowded to the doors” and that after the “knot had been tied, to be broken only by death” there was a “swell reception.”

wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch, Gazette newspaper article 30 October 1897

Gazette (Raleigh, North Carolina), 30 October 1897, page 3

Ancestor Wedding Photographs

Don’t forget to hunt for photographs of marriage engagements and weddings.

Historical newspapers have always been prone to printing arrays of pictures. When you find weddings, you get a special treat – not only do you get to see the bride and sometimes the groom, but you also get a fashion show of earlier styles!

Genealogy Tip: As discussed in other articles on this blog, if you’ve got an undated photo, browse early newspapers to see if you can figure out the time period when similar clothing styles were popular. For example, read the article How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers.

Here is a 1913 photograph depicting a society belle with her groom. He was Frances Bowes Sayre (1885-1972), the lucky fellow who married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Jessie (1887-1933). Her gown was magnificent – and if you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for reports about their wedding, you’ll learn about the White House ceremony and their honeymoon in Europe.

wedding photo for Frances Bowes Sayre and Jessie Wilson, Evening Times newspaper article 29 November 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 29 November 1913, page 8

This next photo example, from 1936, is a virtual collage of people – from the wedding party to family members and attendees. What a treasure it would be to include this wedding picture collage in the family scrapbook!

wedding photos, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 9 August 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 9 August 1936, page 8

Search Tips for Ancestor Wedding Information in Old Newspapers

I’d like to leave you with some search tips, and invite you to share your own with us in the comments section.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

  • After exhausting these two, try other search categories. Occasionally you’ll find a honeymoon mentioned in the Passenger Lists category, or the unfortunate divorce filing in the Legal, Probate & Court category. Any of these can help with finding an elusive date of marriage.
  • Don’t forget to broaden date ranges when you do your newspaper searches. Engagement notices can appear in newspapers many years prior to a wedding. Although local wedding notices are usually printed not long after a wedding, out-of-town papers may report the wedding after a long delay. Even honeymoon stop-overs are reported when the happy couple visits relatives.
  • Research wedding legal requirements. An often overlooked query are banns, which had to be published prior to a wedding. This was done so that people could report concerns as to why a couple should not be married. The amusing anecdote in the following newspaper article showcases the process. In this instance, the groom had written to the church sexton with a request to publish the banns. Trying to be congenial, he concluded his letter: “So no more from your well wisher and Mary Williams.” This sexton unfortunately interpreted the man’s name as “William Wisher,” which was used in the published banns. Imagine the couple’s disappointment when they learned their wedding had to be postponed until after the corrected banns had been published!
article about wedding banns, Biloxi Herald newspaper article 16 December 1893

Biloxi Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 16 December 1893, page 3

  • Many records kept by organizations are only available at the source. Go to your family’s house of worship to see if any canonical records can be searched. One example comes from my own family. I tried to order my parents’ marriage certificate, but it is lost. So Mom and I went to the church where they were married, only to find that the official wedding book had been lost. The church finally located a report in the monthly newspaper which verified the details of their wedding.
  • Learn about religious customs. An example comes from those with ancestors belonging to the Society of Friends (or Quakers). Many of their accounts make for interesting reading. Recently, I spotted reports where members were directed to observe weddings. The intent was to make sure the ceremony was performed in a manner appropriate to the religion. When it wasn’t, there were follow-ups as to how the marriage had occurred out of unity and whether or not a member took appropriate steps to restore the relationship with the church.
  • If you can’t find a family wedding notice in a newspaper, focus on the groom. Enter his full name, and follow up with a search using his given name’s initials. As seen in the Sayre-Wilson wedding photo above, the bride wasn’t even mentioned by name – and the groom only as “F. B.” Sayre
  • A related tip is to search for the bride or groom’s father. It’s all too common to read reports that “a daughter or son of Mr. So & So was married recently.”
  • Many historical newspaper articles will have headlines reporting just the surnames of the wedding couple, so try searching without given names, such as “Smith-Kline marriage.”
  • If your primary objective is to determine a date and you’re striking out as to the exact date of the marriage, look for anniversary notices and obituaries. Many will report that a couple was married on a certain day, or that they were celebrating a special milestone such as a golden wedding anniversary.
article about wedding anniversaries, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 26 September 1866

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 26 September 1866, page 3

  • From one’s engagement to the actual wedding, there are more steps associated with marriages than any other type of life event – so consider all of them as potential keywords. Browse the following list to find keywords that can be cross-referenced:
  • bachelor
  • banns
  • best man
  • betrothal or betrothed
  • bride
  • bridal
  • bridal party
  • bridal shower
  • bridegroom
  • bridesmaid
  • ceremony
  • civil ceremony
  • civil union
  • commitment ceremony
  • dowry
  • elope
  • eloped
  • elopement
  • engaged
  • engagement
  • engagement ring
  • fiancé or fiancée
  • flower girl
  • groom
  • groomsmen
  • guests
  • honeymoon
  • intended
  • intentions
  • maid of honor or matron of honor
  • marriage
  • marriage certificate
  • marriage license
  • married
  • marry
  • newlyweds
  • nuptials
  • officiant (minister, priest, rabbi, reverend, etc.)
  • proposal
  • ring
  • shotgun wedding
  • shower
  • spinster
  • trousseau
  • union
  • veil
  • vows
  • wedding
  • wedding party
  • witness and witnesses

Related Marriage & Divorce Articles:

How to Find Georgia Marriage Records

It is easy to find copies of your Georgia ancestors’ marriage certificates and records using two basic online genealogy tools: GenealogyBank.com and FamilySearch.org. If your ancestors lived in Georgia, let’s see how we can find information about them.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch's Georgia marriage records

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch’s Georgia marriage records. Credit: FamilySearch.

FamilySearch.org has put Georgia marriage records from 1785 to 1950 online.

You may search for these old marriage records online here: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1927197

A typical search will produce a marriage certificate like this one for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton. Credit: FamilySearch.

Image Credit: “Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950,” index and images, FamilySearch: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KXVC-7NK Accessed 19 March 2013, Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton, 1879.

This historical marriage certificate tells us that they were married by the Rev. Walker Lewis on 10 September 1879 in Bibb County, Georgia.

Marriage certificates can be brief and to the point. As genealogists we are thrilled to have them and to look at them—but we want to know more about the couple and their wedding.

Newspapers can give us even more details on the lives of our ancestors.

Let’s start searching the marriage records that were published in Georgia newspapers.

Let’s strategize this search.

In this case the groom’s surname, Dense, is a common word—but the surname itself is not very common. The word “dense” could possibly appear in a marriage announcement, but it is not likely to come up except as a surname.

By searching on the “Georgia Marriage Records” page in GenealogyBank I can focus my search results to bring up just marriage announcements that were printed in Georgia newspapers.

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

Search Georgia marriage records at GenealogyBank here: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/explore/USA/Georgia/?type=marriage_engagement

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

That worked: their wedding announcement was the first of ten search results.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The historical newspaper article is giving us a lot more detail about the wedding then the basic facts recorded on the marriage certificate—so many details that we can almost picture the wedding in our minds.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

  • For example, we learn that the couple was married at the First Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.
  • The church, “crowded to its utmost capacity,” was “tastefully decorated with evergreens” at half past eight in the evening when the wedding began.
  • The old newspaper article named the members of the wedding party and chief guests.
  • The Rev. Walker Lewis performed the wedding ceremony “in a clear and distinct manner.”
  • At the end of the ceremony “Professor Coley played the wedding march.”

Think about it—the details, the setting…picture the wedding scene in your mind.

The end of the old newspaper marriage announcement gives us even more details about the family and their occupations, and describes the reception and supper that followed at the bride’s father’s (Reuben Thornton) home on Second Street.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

Details about special life events like this are only found in historical newspapers.

These are two great genealogy resources for finding your Georgia marriage records: the certificates on FamilySearch, and the newspaper marriage announcements in GenealogyBank with the details about the couple and the wedding.

Oh, the newspaper editor added one more comment about this wedding.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The editor had described the packed church and the beautiful wedding and added “At the close Professor Coley played the wedding march, and the dense audience dispersed.”

It’s great to not only learn about the details of our ancestors’ lives and weddings— it’s also fun to see the wry humor of the times.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Treasured Discovery: Only-Known Photos of Ancestors Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about finding the only-known photos of two of his ancestors in old newspaper wedding announcements—and a surprising engagement notice that told him something he never knew about his own mother!

Summertime! The livin’ is easy and traditionally it is the time for weddings. My bride and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a short time ago and it got me to thinking about how much I have gained in my family history and genealogy work from searching for engagement notices and wedding announcements in GenealogyBank.com.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott Phillips Wedding Photo 1975

The author’s wedding photo from 1975.

As many of us go about developing and nurturing our family trees, I think you’ll agree that one of the best aspects of that work is discovering photographs of our ancestors. Let me tell you, few places that I have found beat newspaper engagement and wedding stories for personal photos—sometimes the only picture anyone in the family has of a particular ancestor. I have had terrific success in my family tree with these types of articles.

A great example was the newspaper article I recently found when researching my Havlic branch. I discovered the wedding announcement for Eleanor Anna Havlic as reported in the Plain Dealer on 30 September 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was I thrilled that there was a picture of my ancestor, but it showed some lovely period dress for a 1928 wedding. Additionally, I was treated to the names of parents, spouse, in-laws, addresses of both, the new couple’s home address, bridal party members, wedding date, and the name of their church.

Mrs Louis J Beran Old Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1928, page 50.

Another nice find for me was the wedding story of another cousin, Margaret Tager, again in the Plain Dealer (27 August 1961) in Cleveland. Once more I was excited to find an old wedding photo that illustrated the current fashion, this time of the early 1960s, plus addresses, parents’ and in-laws’ names, the name of the church where the ceremony was held—and there was even a mention of where both the bride and groom attended college. As an added treat, the newspaper article explained where the couple honeymooned.

Margaret Ann Tager Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 August 1961, page 108.

In the case of both of the above family members, the old newspaper articles provided me with the only photos I have of these particular ancestors, which make them all the more important to my work, my family, and our family tree.

Oh, and don’t forget that every so often you just might find one of those “ah-ha” moments we all enjoy so much in genealogy. I had one myself not long ago.

After working on one of my grandparent’s branches I was having some fun searching different family surnames to see what I could find. As I was running my grandmother’s married name lo and behold I found an engagement announcement! I clicked on the article to find…my mother had been engaged one time before becoming engaged to, and then marrying, the man who was to become my father. This was a fact that had not been a topic of discussion in my life ever before.

Thank goodness my mom made the choice she did or I wouldn’t be here writing this today!

That was a close call…and a really fun discovery.

Using Newspaper Marriage Records for Genealogy: Free Webinar Download

Newspapers are the next big thing for genealogists, with news stories that can flesh out the names and dates on your family tree so that you can better know your ancestors. With over 1.2 billion  genealogy records online, GenealogyBank is the best source for mining old newspapers for engagement, wedding, and anniversary announcements—as well as for divorce records.

GenealogyBank search form for marriage records and engagement announcements

GenealogyBank search form for marriage records and engagement announcements

Download Tom Kemp’s latest genealogy webinar on marriage records to learn handy tips and search strategies, as well as what kinds of marriage records you can expect to find in newspapers:

http://slidesha.re/MKseIt

Practical and timely, this informative presentation will show the research skills you need to get the most out of GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.