Why Are Newspapers Vital to Your Genealogy Research?

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows that searching old newspapers should be a vital part of every genealogist’s family history research.

I’m always surprised when family history researchers confess they haven’t searched newspapers for information about their brick wall ancestor. Sure, it’s a good idea to start your research project by searching the census and vital records. In addition to checking government records and official documents, part of your research plan should include newspapers – such as the collection in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Newspapers allow you to verify and add information to your family tree. They often complement the government documents that you are using to verify your ancestor’s event dates and places by adding stories that tell you more about your ancestor’s life and experiences.

Every family history project should involve ongoing newspaper research. Why? Consider the following reasons:

Newspapers Reported On Events as They Happened

While a newspaper article is not an original source for documenting events like a birth, marriage or death, it is an important addition to confirming or finding information. For example, you may not know the exact date of an ancestor’s death, but finding a newspaper obituary or probate notice might provide the clue you need to successfully find that original “official” death certificate.

obituary for Charlotte Kendtner, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 January 1953

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 January 1953, page 21

What types of newspapers articles complement vital records? Birth notices; engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements; obituaries; and probate notices are just a few examples.

Newspapers Reported On Your Ancestor’s Life like No Other Document

There are some limitations to those vital record certificates that you are gathering to document your ancestor’s life. One of the big frustrations is the lack of detail, or even the additional questions they raise. Official government or church documents only provide so much information. They are meant to provide the basics, not tell a story. However, newspaper articles use the details to tell a story. Sure some of that detail may not seem as important, such as “The bride will wear a gown of white figured chiffon over white silk, with trimmings of Irish lace” – but every little detail helps give a deeper picture of your ancestor’s life.

Newspaper articles also provide genealogically relevant gems like relationships and names, occupations, and addresses. Consider this newspaper article about a 1910 New Jersey wedding. Aside from reporting on the wedding, we find the bride’s grandmother’s married name (Mrs. Wade H. Brown) and that she is giving the bride away. The article mentions that the bride is a member of the First Presbyterian Church, and that the groom works for Bell Telephone Company. The bride and groom’s residence at 62 South Hermitage Avenue is also mentioned.

What a goldmine! We now know the name of the bride’s grandmother (and grandfather), the bride’s religion and the groom’s employer, and where the newly married couple will live. Now we can take that information and search censuses, city directories, church records, and other genealogical records.

wedding notice for Pearl Dalrymple and Arthur Gilder, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 9 June 1910d

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 9 June 1910, page 10

Newspaper Articles Help You Find Documents

Let’s face it, research is not easy and in some cases it can feel impossible to find a document that you know should be online or on that microfilm reel. Online content might be mis-indexed or simply not where we think it should be. In some cases even trying to find documents in a library, archive, or courthouse may prove unsuccessful.

One friend faced a problem when the probate of her grandfather seemed to not exist at the county courthouse. She knew there was a probate because her father had been the executor of the estate. Unfortunately, this courthouse does not allow patrons to search indexes, microfilm or older files. She had to pay a search fee only to be told that no probate file existed.

So she asked me what to do. I told her to go search the legal notices section of the local newspaper. The probate notice would help “prove” to the courthouse that a probate action had occurred. Sure enough she was able to easily find the probate notice in the newspaper. She showed it to the courthouse clerk who then found the missing file. Without that newspaper proof she would never had been able to obtain the document she needed.

probate notice for the estate of Roger Powell, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 25 January 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 25 January 1908, page 9

What’s the lesson here? Newspapers provide us with information that leads to other documents about our ancestors.

Newspapers Provide a Look at Our Ancestor’s Community

We don’t take the time to really read our ancestor’s newspaper. As researchers, we tend to be singularly focused on finding mentions of our own ancestor and not much else. I understand too well how addicting it is to enter an ancestor’s name into a search engine and get a result. But it is important to invest some time to read that ancestor’s hometown newspaper to learn more about their life, and what events or activities impacted them.

article about an earthquake, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 19 June 1875

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 19 June 1875, page 1

Don’t forget that your ancestor was part of a community. Their children went to school, they attended a church, and were active members of organizations. Those types of activities generate newspaper articles. So don’t conduct your family history research with blinders on.

One of the suggestions I always make to researchers is to create a timeline. In that timeline you are going to add the cradle-to-grave events of your ancestor’s life – but you should also add events that they may have been a part of or that might have affected them, like a natural disaster or military service during a time of war. These types of events help to fill out the story of their life, and one of the few places to get that type of information is the newspaper.

Newspaper Research Should Start Today

There’s no doubt that newspaper research is an important piece of your genealogical puzzle. Newspapers complement the genealogy documents that we use in documenting our ancestors. Their value lies in recreating the story that is uniquely your family’s.

Are You Attending the RootsTech Genealogy Conference?

GenealogyBank is helping to sponsor the RootsTech conference. If you’re attending, come visit us at booth #523 to discuss genealogy in general, or any specific questions you have about your own family history research.

For more information about RootsTech, visit the website at: http://www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng

Related Newspaper Research Articles:

If You Don’t Put It Online – Your Descendants Will Not Find It!

With the New Year now started, here’s a genealogy resolution you can keep in 2016: preserve your family history records online so that future generations can find them. Take your records – prepare now to begin scanning them and putting them online.

photo of a letter from Maxine Lacy

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Bottom line: “If You Don’t Put It Online – Your Descendants Will Not Find It!”

photo of a letter from Maxine Lacy

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

It is that simple.

That is the central message of the online lecture that I gave Friday, November 13th.

Click here to listen to my webinar Bringing It All Together and Leaving a Permanent Record.

Whether you’ve been researching your family history for 5 years – 15 years – or perhaps even 50 years – your search skills have improved year after year.

Now is the time to thoroughly review your research conclusions. You want to review and evaluate each person in your family tree. Reconfirm the dates/places of their vital events and upload their photos, stories and documents. Make sure that each person’s record is accurate and that all of your notes are attached.

Put that information online. Now.

Review and rebuild your tree – putting it on multiple websites so that you have double or triple the online backup, widely distributing your information so that your non-genealogist family members can easily find what you spent years discovering.

Put your stories and family photos on multiple websites like:

Facebook

screenshot of a Facebook page showing a recipe for chocolate cake

Source: Facebook

Pinterest

screenshot of a Pinterest board showing a recipe for chocolate cake

Source: Pinterest

FamilySearch

screenshot of a FamilySearch page showing a recipe for chocolate cake

Source: FamilySearch

Listen to the webinar to learn how to review and prepare your data so that you can leave it – permanently – on multiple websites. For the upcoming New Year, resolve to make sure your data is available for your family into the rising generation.

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Finding Bion Whitehouse: How Initials Can Help Your Ancestry Search

I have been looking at my Whitehouse cousins of Keene, New Hampshire, this week and was wrapping up the details of Bion Huntley Whitehouse (1858-1929) and his wife Mabel Medora (Wilder) Whitehouse (1871-1938).

In looking at GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I searched using his first and last name: Bion Whitehouse. I found a handful of newspaper articles, including this one that stated he was elected secretary of the Masonic lodge: Eureka Lodge No. 9, Order of the Golden Lion in 1891.

article about the Masonic lodge, Eureka Lodge No. 9, Order of the Golden Lion, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper article 4 February 1891

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 4 February 1891, page 4

Another article reported that he “is taking a ten days’ trip about Sunapee Lake.”

article about Bion Whitehouse, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper article 5 August 1891

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 5 August 1891, page 4

And this one stated that he “has bought the Amos Ross place near Wilson pond, West Keene.”

article about Bion Whitehouse, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper article 18 December 1889

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 18 December 1889, page 4

On a hunch, I searched for Bion again in GenealogyBank – but this time I searched using his initials with his last name instead of using his first name.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for B. H. Whitehouse

Source: GenealogyBank.com

I am glad that I did.

By searching on this variation of his name I found the obituary of his first wife – information that I didn’t have.

obituary for Lena Whitehouse, New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper article 9 April 1890

New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), 9 April 1890, page 8

Genealogy Tip: Be sure you discover all of the articles about your relatives. An extra search, such as using only their initials, can sometimes yield critical information for documenting your family tree.

Related Name Search Articles:

Genealogy Tips: Searching for Your Ancestors Using Nicknames

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how expanding your name searches to include nicknames can discover records about your ancestors you never found before.

Finding your ancestor in old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sure, you can search by a given name and sometimes find your ancestor right away. Other times you need to try variations and common misspellings of their name before getting good search results. But if even then you come up empty, what do you search on next?

Try Nicknames

Do you have a nickname? Maybe your nickname is based on your actual given name. Perhaps it has to do with a characteristic or physical trait you possess. You may have earned your nickname playing sports or in the workplace. Sometimes a nickname may make absolutely no sense. In my case, my paternal grandfather gave me a nickname shortly after I was born based on his miss-hearing of my actual middle name. That nickname would make no sense to anyone (and no, I won’t tell you what it is) but it was always the name he used to refer to me.

A person can gain a nickname for all kinds of reasons, including: ease of pronunciation; to distinguish between two family members with the same name; and in some cases to call out a negative trait.

The most important thing to remember about nicknames is that they could have also been used in print when a newspaper referred to your ancestor. Have you given some thought to searching for your ancestor using a nickname?

You Say Mary, I Say Polly

Probably the most familiar use of a nickname is one that simply substitutes one name for a person’s given name. Throughout history, there have been some standard names substituted for “proper” given names. Case in point: Mary. Mary could be May, Mimi, Molly or Polly. And of course she could have been just Mary, Mary Ann or Mary Jane.

While these nicknames may have seemed childish to some – and they certainly were to the writer of this 1875 newspaper article – in reality it’s possible the nickname was used all of the person’s life. This writer seems annoyed at the use of such familiar names as “Bettie,” commenting:

While this vulgar and silly practice of calling ladies by their nicknames is in vogue among the ignorant and the shoddy class in all parts of the country…

article about nicknames, Cincinnati Daily Enquirer newspaper article 5 March 1875

Cincinnati Daily Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 5 March 1875, page 2

Are you searching on all variations of your ancestor’s written name, including nicknames? Their name may have been abbreviated to a form considered archaic to our modern written language, such as “Jno” for John, “Wm” for William or “Geo.” for George. Previous generations’ nicknames may make little sense to us today. Sarah being referred to as Sally is one such example. Many modern people are confused about why Dick is a nickname for Richard, but according to an online article by David K. Israel, 12th and 13th century nicknames for Richard included Rich and Rick as well as rhyming versions of those names – including Dick.*

In order to improve your chances of finding your ancestor in the newspaper (and other records), it’s important to become familiar with nicknames for a given name. One way to do this is to consult a resource list on nicknames like the FamilySearch Wiki page, “Traditional Nicknames in Old Documents – A Wiki List,” or “A Listing of Some Nicknames Used in the 18th & 19th Centuries” from the Connecticut State Library. You can also read more about nicknames in Christine Rose’s book, Nicknames: Past and Present.

Boy, They Weren’t Very Original!

Do you ever get tired of ancestors who seem to use the same few given names generation after generation? Recycling the names William and John, or Elizabeth and Mary, makes it very difficult to trace a family tree. In some cases re-using a name or favoring certain names might be due to a tradition like naming a child after a saint. You may stumble upon a whole family that has used one singular given name, as in the case of one branch of my family where all the daughters share the name Maria but used their middle names in day-to-day life. This is another example of why searching newspapers for variations of your ancestor’s name, such as middle names or nicknames, is so important. Don’t forget to look for home sources or conduct family interviews to uncover a person’s possible nicknames.

Nicknames can be an important distinguisher for those who are given the same name as a parent, grandparent or older relative. A newspaper article may refer to someone as “Junior” or “Senior.” While referring to someone as Junior or the Second (II) may seem straightforward, a more uncommon nickname could be utilized to refer to someone named after a previous generation or who carries the same name held by successive generations. For example, Skip may be the nickname of someone named after their grandfather but not their father.

“Billy the Kid” & “Gorgeous” George

We are all familiar with nicknames that are substitutes for both a given name and surname. A good example is Billy the Kid. Looking for articles using his given name, Henry McCarty, or his alias, William H. Bonney, might not yield as many returns as searching for his moniker, Billy the Kid.

obituary for Billy the Kid, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 22 July 1881

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 22 July 1881, page 1

Billy the Kid wasn’t the only desperado who ditched his given name. Nicknames were seemingly so popular among those committing crimes that the U.S. District Clerk’s Office kept track of defendant’s actual names and nicknames. Researching a black sheep ancestor? Make sure to use both his or her “real” name and their nickname to find relevant articles.

article about criminals' nicknames, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 December 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 December 1938, page 5

One way to incorporate nicknames in your search is to consider your ancestor’s descriptive nickname substituting for a first or middle name, offset with quotes, as is often done for people like athletes or criminals.

This 1962 sports example of a wrestler named George “Gorgeous” Grant shows the difficulty that can arise when searching on a name. I’ve also seen a nickname listed with parenthesis in the middle like George (Gorgeous) Grant in genealogically-rich articles like obituaries. So make sure that you search on multiple versions of a name including just the nickname and the surname. And while exact phrase searches are important, incorporate other searches as well.

article about professional wrestlers, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 February 1962

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 February 1962, page 37

When you aren’t sure of a family member’s nickname, it can be beneficial to try a surname search and include other keywords that can assist you in discovering that nickname. Remember that on GenealogyBank, in addition to keywords, you can narrow your search by place, date, newspaper title and even type of article.

article about professional baseball players, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 26 August 1911

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 26 August 1911, page 13

Before you start your next family history research project, keep in mind the importance of having a list of name variations that includes all the various nicknames and versions of your ancestor’s name, as well as possible misspellings.

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* “The Origins of 10 Nicknames,” by David K. Israel. Mental Floss: http://mentalfloss.com/article/24761/origins-10-nicknames

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3 Genealogy Tips for Family History Month

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” As you may be aware, October is Family History Month. In this blog article, Gena celebrates this special month for family historians by suggesting three genealogy tips for you to try.

First set aside as Family History Month in 2001 via a resolution introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch, October is a time to reflect on our ancestry. Family History Month can be a busy one with genealogy society events and conferences to educate existing family historians – and encourage those who are just starting.

What are you personally doing for Family History Month? It’s the perfect time to set some goals for what you want to do with your family history research. Consider what you want to accomplish and then break those objectives down into smaller goals that can easily be achieved in a short amount of time. What might some month-long genealogy goals look like? Here are a few goals that I’ll be working on to celebrate Family History Month.

1) Catch up on your newspaper research. I’m lucky – I get to research in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives on a daily basis. But GenealogyBank is updated monthly and I don’t always remember to rerun my searches for new-to-me articles. My plan this month is to search the latest additions to GenealogyBank for newspapers that can help me fill in some of the gaps in my family tree.

Do you have an obituary for all of your great-grandparents? Have you looked for your parent’s wedding announcements? What about notices in the legal section of the newspapers? Take some time this month to find new articles to add to your family history.

I’m starting with my great-great-grandparents’ obituaries. Below is one of my paternal great-great-grandparents. Now, only 31 more to go!

obituary for Joseph Chatham, Sacramento Bee newspaper article 16 January 1940

Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 16 January 1940, page 4

2) Learn one new thing about genealogy. What’s that one thing you wish you knew about family history research? Maybe you want to know how to conduct better searches. Maybe you want to learn how to use a specific genealogy website. Maybe you would just like to better understand the World War I draft. Whatever your interest is, make a pact with yourself that you will take some time this month to enhance your genealogy research skills by learning one new thing. Whether it’s methodology, a new website, how to search a favorite website, or learning about a record set, your research will benefit from continuing education.

GenealogyBank provides many different opportunities to learn more about genealogy, including a YouTube channel, Pinterest boards, and a Learning Center. Ensure you are searching like a family history pro and invest some time in learning how to best use genealogy resources.

3) Share your family history research. How are you sharing your genealogy research? Genealogy is often seen as a solitary pursuit. While the image of someone bent over a microfilm machine in a hushed library is sometimes accurate, the new face of genealogy research is so much more. It’s through sharing that we learn from the knowledge and work of others as we seek to find answers. Sharing your genealogy research doesn’t need to be a big production.

Take some time today to tell a younger member of the family about your grandparents, or a story about a historical event you witnessed (my mom shared with my high school-age sons about the Kennedy assassination and its effect on her as a high school student). Upload some family photos to Facebook and tag your family members. Call a sibling and ask them what they remember about a grandparent or a family event, and then share your research about that person. Sharing doesn’t need to be something planned well in advance or a lot of work – it can simply mean spending a few minutes to pass on what you know about your ancestry.

As you think about sharing your family history, make plans for how you will share or gather information as the holidays approach. Many families take time out of their busy lives to meet for the holidays. Plan now to take advantage of these multigenerational family gatherings.

Family History Month is a great time to accomplish some family history goals. Take a few minutes today to decide what you will accomplish.

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Historic Illinois Cemetery Project Is Documenting the Dead

Like many historic cemeteries, the Herrin City Cemetery in Herrin, Illinois, is trying to document all of the persons buried in the cemetery.

screenshot from an article on the South Illinoisan website about the Herrin City Cemetery in Herrin, Illinois

Source: South Illinoisan (Summer 2015)

See: http://bit.ly/1I1HJdT

So far their efforts have uncovered “89 previously unknown burial sites.” Good work!

Are you working on a cemetery project this summer?

If you are, here’s a cemetery research tip.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page for a search for “Herrin Cemetery”

Genealogy Tip: Use GenealogyBank to help you find all burials in America’s cemeteries. The example above shows a search using “Herrin Cemetery” in the “Include Keywords” search box. Since the cemetery name is not a common word, you could also expand the range of accurate results by searching on just “Herrin.”

Also see more of our previous articles about cemetery research: http://blog.genealogybank.com/tag/cemetery-research.

Armed with more information on people who have been buried there, it will be easier to document each gravesite.

Tell us what cemeteries you are working on this summer in the comments.

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4 Tips for Genealogy Research with Historical Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena provides four tips, based on her own genealogy experience, to help you research your ancestors in historical newspapers – including a free Research Log template to help you organize and keep track of your searches.

Ok, so you have a weekend free. You decide to spend it on the hobby you love: family history research. You know you need to research in newspapers. But how do you start? Well before you sit down at the computer and start plugging in ancestor name after ancestor name, take a few minutes to plan out that research to make the most of the limited time you have. These four newspaper search tips will help you – and be sure to download the free Research Log template at the end of the article to help you with your genealogy research.

picture of a stack of newspapers with text reading: 4 tips for genealogy research with historical newspapers

1) Whom to start with?

Sometimes just the hunt itself is the addicting part of genealogy research. Looking at old newspapers and reading old newspaper articles can quickly take up your available time. So before you get too engrossed in reading historical newspapers, focus your research and plan for each individual or family you’re interested in.

First, look at your pedigree chart and decide what your research question is. Do you want to find marriage notices for your most immediate family (parents and grandparents)? Do you want to learn more about that black sheep ancestor? Looking to follow your ancestor’s political career? Write down your research question before you start your research. It’s ok if that question changes as you find new information, but start with a specific question so that your research time has a focus.

2) Get the most out of your ancestor search.

Not all genealogy search engines are equal. And to start searching without taking into consideration how that search engine works can result in a lot of frustration and fewer relevant results.

How is the GenealogyBank search engine different?

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box for its historical newspapers collection

For one thing, the information it finds is via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and not by searching indexed or transcribed fields. (See the blog article Genealogy Search Engine Types & Tips: OCR vs. Indexed Databases.) Because the software does not recognize words but characters, keep in mind that difficulties can arise when the original newspapers are damaged, smudged, or have hard-to-read type.

Whenever you use a search engine, a good rule to remember is that the more information you add, the fewer results you will receive. In essence, as you fill the search engine with names, keywords, places and dates, you are asking for a very specific and narrow result. In some cases, this is important if you are looking for a specific event or place, or when you are researching a common name. But whenever your search results are few, always think about restructuring your search to make it broader. Try different variations of your search, such as using just a name and place, or simply a name and date.

One more tip for your search of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives: don’t forget to utilize the menu choices located on the left hand side of your search results. These options provide you the choice to narrow your search result by the type of article. This is a wonderful tool to help you find what you need, especially useful when you know what kind of article you are looking for.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's seach page for its historical newspapers collection showing the article categories available

3) Get ready, set, search!

So now that you better understand how to search GenealogyBank it’s time to do the fun part: search! While you could just plug in ancestor names and download articles, consider what each historical newspaper article tells you and how you might change your search to accommodate new information you learned. Then consider follow-up searches on additional names, places or even a historical event so that you can place your ancestor in proper context.

As I research my ancestors, I often take some time to read the whole newspaper, reading every section, to get a sense for the community, what was going on, who was coming and going, etc. – you never know what part of the newspaper might hold information about your ancestral family. I even like to browse the classified advertisements to see how they are structured. For example, do funeral notices appear there? Do they have Help Wanted or Lost and Found ads that contain identifying information like addresses and names?

classified ads, Salem Gazette newspaper advertisements 19 November 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 19 November 1833, page 4

4) Document all your family findings.

Ok, so you found some great information about your family, now what? Don’t just save the articles on your computer to languish there until your next research session or – worse yet – to never be found again. Document your family history finds. Research Logs can help you do that by providing a place to insert what you found, note where you found it, and add any comments that you have for further research.

Free Research Log Template

Not sure what a Research Log is or how to start one? No problem; with this free download from GenealogyBank you’ll be tracking your research in no time.

screenshot of a genealogy research log

Clicking on the link (or the graphic) will let you download the Research Log template as a full-size, working Excel spreadsheet that you can use to organize and track your genealogy research. This log is compliments of Duncan Kuehn, who provided the following instructions:

Crafting your research plan:

  • Title: Give your document a title. This will likely be the name of the person or family line that you are working on.
  • Objective: Craft a very specific objective. The more specific you can be the more effective your search will be. An example of a poorly crafted object would be: “Continue the Johnson line.” A better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson was born.” An even better objective would be: “Find out when Jacob Johnson (probable son of James Johnson and Sally Kunz) was born (likely 1882-1885 in Hardin County, Kentucky or Randolph County, South Carolina).” Having a clear objective keeps your search focused. Having more information helps you narrow your search and determine if you have found the right information.
  • Date: Always enter a date for each entry. This will help you keep organized.
  • Goal:Follow this basic outline for setting goals. Each goal or search should occupy its own row in the research plan.
    • Confirm the known information.
    • Identify which sources might contain more information. Prioritize these by likelihood to contain the information, reliability, ease of accessibility, quality, etc.
    • Determine what possible documents might exist. For example, were birth certificates issued in the area at that time?
    • Try to find the document.
      • Check to see if any online resources have digitized the collection.
        • If not, check to see if an online index exists.
    • Check to see if any near-to-you repositories have the collection.
    • Check to see if any archives in the local jurisdiction have the collection.
  • Obtain the document and analyze the information.
  • Re-evaluate if the objective was met or not. If it was, then create a new research plan with a new objective. If not, determine what additional information is required and then identify which sources might contain that additional information.
  • Source: Write down what source you are using to find the information. For example, when confirming the information where did you look? Was it on your family tree? Did you locate the birth certificate in your possession? Write down this source and include as much information as possible. Who authored it? What page in the book was it found on? What was the call number of the book? What was the URL of the online document?
  • Repository: Write down where you found the source. Where was the document found? Was it in your possession? Did you locate it on FamilySearch? Was it in the local library? Write down as much information as you can here. If it is a place you intend to visit, be sure to include the address, phone number, website, etc.
  • Result: Write down what you searched for and what you found. Be very, very specific. For example: “I searched for Jacob Aman’s (born 1901 in South Dakota) birth certificate on Ancestry, but nothing was found.  I also used the spellings of Amman, Amann, Ammann, Anan, Amam, Amon, etc. I searched the time span of 1898-1903. I did not restrict it to a particular county.” That way when you think of or discover additional alternative spellings, such as Jakob or the initials J.B., you know to go back and try searching with the new information. When you do find information, record it here.
  •  #: Use this column to record the document number, include a link to the document that is stored on your computer, or list the document name as saved on your computer or in your paper files. You will want to access the document again. How will you find it? Enter that information in this column. Note: be sure to obtain a copy for yourself; don’t rely on finding the document again online, because URLs change, collections get culled and removed from websites, websites go defunct, etc.

Note: What is the difference between a research log and a research plan? A research plan includes the log, keeping all the information together. This prepares you for conducting the research: what documents exist, where can they be found? A research log would generally not include the goals of confirming the information, identifying the sources, locating where the source can be found, but instead would focus on the actual document search within a repository. This hybrid combines the best of both worlds to keep all the information in one place. I’ve called it a research plan because genealogists tend to focus on the document search when they need to focus on the preparatory work. The title is intended to remind them to slow down, focus their research, start at the beginning and work their way through. Once the document containing the information is found, the work is not done. Each fact needs to be confirmed by multiple sources. The evidence from each source needs to be properly evaluated. Finally, a written statement needs to be crafted to “prove” the answer, taking into account any evidence that contradicts the genealogist’s conclusion. Once this statement, paragraph, or report has been written, you are ready to move on – keeping in mind that new sources and evidence will be found and that might cause you to go back and revise your previous conclusions.

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Spend some time this upcoming weekend researching your family in the newspapers. Nowhere else can you find such a rich variety of stories to help you better understand your ancestors’ lives and their world.

Related Newspaper Search Tips Articles:

The Nelson Shipwreck & Captain Hagney: Name Research Tips

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about Captain Hagney and the sinking of the schooner “Nelson” on Lake Superior in 1899, using various search tips to get good results.

Searching newspapers for an ancestor’s name that doesn’t seem to have a standard spelling can be a challenge for family historians. Here is an interesting case study about the captain of a sunken ship that may help you research those difficult ancestor names. Recently this ship, the schooner Nelson, was found under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Superior. There were several newspaper articles about the shipwreck discovery, but they had various spellings of the captain’s name – including “Haganey” and “Hagginey.”

The Story of the Sinking of the Nelson

The shipwreck story goes like this. On 15 May 1899, the schooner Nelson was overloaded with coal, in addition to the 10 people on board. There was a terrific storm on Lake Superior and ice accumulated on the ship, causing it to sit even lower in the water. The waves began to crash over the edges of the ship. The Nelson was being towed by the steamer A Folsom along with the Mary B Mitchell. At some point the towing line either broke or was cut. Shortly after, the Nelson tilted and the stern popped up out of the water as the entire vessel almost immediately went under. The captain placed his crew, his wife, and his toddler son into the lifeboat. Then he dove into the water to join them. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was still tethered to the Nelson and it was dragged down to the bottom of the lake by the sinking ship. The captain, who never reached the lifeboat, watched helplessly as his ship and family were lost. He clung to a piece of the wreckage and was found unconscious along the shore. The storm’s violent 50 mile-per-hour winds prevented any rescue efforts by the other two ships. Nine lives were lost; only the captain survived.

My Search for the Captain

This is a compelling story of a heroic effort by the captain of the Nelson that just wasn’t enough to save his family or crew, and I wanted to learn more details.

As always, I searched for contemporary records to find out more. I started by looking into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the schooner "Nelson"

I entered the name of the ship in quotation marks as a keyword. You do not necessarily need to use a person’s name to search on GenealogyBank – a keyword search is often effective. I also entered a date range from the date of the accident to several months after the event. When the search results came back I sorted the results with the oldest article first, as I prefer to read articles in chronological order.

I found many newspaper articles from all over the United States telling the story of the accident. Here are three of those articles.

This article refers to Captain “Haganney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 17 May 1899

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 17 May 1899, page 1

This historical newspaper article refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Anaconda Standard newspaper article 15 May 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 15 May 1899, page 1

This old news article also refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Bay City Times newspaper article 15 May 1899

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 3

Using these old newspaper articles, I discovered that much of the information in the present-day articles about the discovery of the shipwreck reflected the information given in those 1899 articles. However, I found some inconsistencies as well. Perhaps most importantly, the old articles make no mention of the captain’s heroic effort to save his family and crew. A typical comment from those 1899 articles is that “The Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff a candle,” suggesting that the captain did not have time to do anything. I also find that Captain Haganey/Hagginey (as spelled in the modern newspaper articles) is spelled differently in the 1899 articles:  “Haganney” and “Hagney.”

After learning about the shipwreck, I now wanted to know more about the captain himself – but there were so many spellings of his name I wasn’t sure which was correct. A quick search of census records on FamilySearch.org told me that he was the son of John and Mary Hagney from Oswego, New York. He also had siblings: Ellen, Thomas, William, and Mary.

Going back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I narrowed my search using the name as it appeared in the census: “Hagney.” This search turned up several articles that told me a great deal about the captain.

One of the first I found was this very sad newspaper article. It appears that on the same day the Nelson when down with Captain Hagney’s entire family, his friends from New York were frantically trying to reach him with the sad news that his mother had just died. The unfortunate man lost his one remaining parent and his wife and child.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 15 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 6

The Captain Searches for His Family

Immediately after the Nelson accident, Captain Hagney refused to give up hope. As this old news article explains, he wasn’t willing to give up on his family – and spent hours and days combing the beach for any sign of his loved ones:

Capt. Hagney is now engaged in patrolling the beach with the help of the crews of life saving stations here and at Deer Park. The broken yawl, some parts of the cabin, a lady’s hat, a man’s cap and a mattress are all that have yet been found.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 May 1899, page 10

Hagney was understandably distraught, as reported in these next two newspaper articles. This Ohio newspaper article’s headline, “Capt. Hagney in Bad Shape,” says it all, and reports that he had been hospitalized:

The doctors class his trouble as nervousness and insomnia.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 May 1899, page 8

This Michigan newspaper article reports that Hagney’s condition is serious.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 24 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 24 May 1899, page 2

The Previous Life of Captain Hagney

The 1900 census shows him safely ensconced at the home of a family member in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as an agent for the seamen’s union.* As tragic as all of this was, I still wanted to know more about Hagney. He had a life before the shipwreck of the Nelson and one after, so I ran some more searches. I started with changing the spelling from Hagney to Hageny. I figured this would be a common misspelling even though I hadn’t seen it in any of the records so far. This search did produce results, and I found a series of articles about his life back in New York a decade before the accident.

Ten years previously, in 1889, Andrew got into some difficulty with the law. As this New York newspaper reports, there was a trial after some union trouble involving strikes, “scabs” and violence:

Andrew Hageny, William Putman, and Michael Donovan were charged with a murderous assault upon Jesse Josephs, mate of the schooner John Scheutte of Toledo, at the dock in this port…Josephs was dragged a mile into the suburbs, pounded with belaying pins and thrown into the cellar of a burned house; he managed to crawl to an adjoin house.

They were all found guilty of assault in the second degree, with a second, upcoming trial for coercion and conspiracy in forcing some “scabs” to leave another ship.

article about Andrew Hagney being convicted for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 20 July 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 20 July 1889, page 5

This “Andrew Hageny” seems to be the same man as the later Captain Andrew Hagney of the Nelson, based on location, occupation, and name, but more evidence is always wanted – so I kept searching the archives. I found this earlier newspaper article about the assault on sailor Jesse Josephs, and learned that Andrew Hageny’s brother Thomas was also involved. This lends credence to the belief that this Andrew Hageny is the same as the later Captain Andrew Hagney, since I knew from my earlier research on the census that Andrew Hagney had a brother named Thomas.

article about Thomas Hagney being charged for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 17 May 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 17 May 1889, page 3

But how did Andrew become a ship’s captain with this background of conviction for assault, especially when we find that he had been sentenced to four years in prison?

Intrigued, I kept searching for answers – and found this newspaper article two years into Andrew’s prison sentence, indicating that Governor Hill had promised to pardon him.

article about Andrew Hagney being pardoned by Governor Hill, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 25 November 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 25 November 1891, page 8

And that was indeed what happened – Governor Hill pardoned him. So that was how he got out of prison early, and presumably set about setting his affairs in order. I was unable to find any newspaper articles reporting Andrew getting in trouble with the law again. He must have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, because in a few years he was entrusted as a ship’s captain.

The Post-Shipwreck Life of Captain Hagney

But what happened to Captain Andrew Hagney after the shipwreck of the Nelson? Was he able to recover from the trauma? It took some searching to find a newspaper article to answer this question. I had to go back to the other spellings of his name, and eventually found his obituary by searching under the spelling “Haganey.”

obituary for Andrew Hagney, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 23 February 1912

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 February 1912, page 10

Captain Andrew Hagney appears to have remained in Toledo for the rest of his short life. He remarried and fathered three more children. He died at age 52 in 1912, while visiting his in-laws in New Mexico.

Captain Hagney’s life was full of tragic and challenging experiences. While it must have been difficult to live, searching for his life story provides an opportunity for us to learn about ancestor name search tips, and demonstrates how much we can learn about the lives of our ancestors simply by continuing to dig in the archives..

Genealogy Tips:

Many of us have ancestors with unusual names, or names that appear in records with different spellings. When searching on GenealogyBank, the search engine will look for exactly what you type. Therefore, if you know of an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name – or if you can guess at one – you may end up finding even more articles. And if you stumble across an article that seems to be about your ancestor, but the name was spelled differently than you thought, it could still be them. Keep searching for additional information to help you determine if that record or article is the right person.

Another thing you might notice is the location of these articles. They appear from places all over the United States: Cleveland, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; Watertown, New York; Elkhart, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; and Bay City, Michigan. While some of these locations make sense because Andrew had a connection with them, some do not – such as Montana and Indiana. Keep in mind that news travels, and reports about the ancestor you are looking for could be in any newspaper in the country. If you don’t find what you are looking for in your ancestor’s local area, don’t hesitate to search nationwide. This is always a good approach to take, even if your initial searches do find articles in your ancestor’s hometown, because many more articles might be out there. Best of luck in your family history searches!

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* “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMD2-KFQ: accessed Dec. 2014), Andrew Hagney in household of Robert V. French, Port Lawrence Township, Precinct F Toledo city Ward 10, Lucas, Ohio, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 159, NARA microfilm publication T623, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1241298.

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Old Music in Historical Newspapers: Tips for Finding Songs

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides newspaper search tips to find articles and musical scores about the songs our ancestors enjoyed

When doing your family history research, have you ever wondered about the old music your American ancestors enjoyed?

What were the popular melodies and tunes of earlier days, what were their origins, and what musical discoveries can we find in historical newspapers?

Yankee Doodle

A fun place to start is by researching one of the more ubiquitous tunes in American history: “Yankee Doodle.” Just think—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents knew the same lyrics to this song. What a wonderful shared experience that is.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

To find a wide assortment of news articles about “Yankee Doodle” and amusing renditions of this popular American song, enter the title into GenealogyBank’s search engine. This search returns over 64,000 “best matches,” so you may wish to sort the results by date from the earliest to newest, or vice versa.

One of the earliest newspaper articles, from 1769, reports that the British military used the song as a type of verbal bantering or taunting of the colonists.

According to the article:

…the Officer of the Guard, in a sneering Manner, called upon the Musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle Tune, which completed the Conquest of the Military, and afforded them a temporary Triumph.

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

Limiting Music Searches by Categories

With so many search results, I looked for ways to narrow the focus. A promising option was the “Poems & Songs” category with over 1,200 historical newspaper articles to explore.

search results for "Yankee Doodle" in GenealogyBank

Adding Keywords to Your Article Search

To learn about specifics, I incorporated keywords such as “origins.”

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A newspaper article from 1861 reported that “Yankee Doodle’s” music was derived from the “Lucy Locket” nursery rhyme. I wasn’t familiar with it—but if you hum “Lucy Locket,” you’ll find it has the same musical syntax, or structure, as “Yankee Doodle.”

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it
Only binding ’round it.

 
After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots came up with their own lyrics. An early version was titled “The Yankee’s Return from Camp,” used as a battle march.

The old song has direct references to George Washington (then a Captain) and Capt. Isaac Davis. See article on Capt. Isaac Davis at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Davis_(soldier).

Photos & Illustrations

You’ll discover a number of musical scores in the “Poems & Songs” category on GenealogyBank’s search results page, and there are others in the “Photos & Illustrations” category. By examining these, I found a promising lead from 1910 that was reprinted three years later, in 1913.

Historical Music Sheet Tab in Historical Newspapers Genealogy Bank

This sheet tab reference isn’t actually from the “Yankee Doodle” song itself, but instead a composition called “The Boys That Fight the Flames” by George M. Cohen. He composed it as part of his play, Fifty Miles from Boston.

Forgotten Old Songs

The “Photos & Illustrations” category is also a wonderful place to find musical scores of forgotten pieces. Although not familiar with “Life’s a Bumper,” I might try playing this song on my piano.

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Search Tips for Finding Old Music

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on musical discoveries found in newspapers. Try these steps and be sure to share your own tips for researching the music of our ancestors in old newspapers.

  • Do a general search for a song title
  • Sort by Best Matches, Oldest Items or Newest Items
  • Narrow by the category “Poems & Songs”
  • Experiment with other categories, such as “Photos & Illustrations”
  • Repeat the previous steps by adding keywords, such as “origins” or a composer’s name

Related Music Articles:

 

A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains some of the old terms—many of them derived from Latin—that genealogists encounter during their family history research.

Throughout history, terms come and terms go—and thankfully for most people, archaic expressions disappear. That is, thankfully for everyone except family historians. We encounter a plethora of long forgotten archaic terms while doing our genealogy research, mostly in what some consider a dead language: Latin!

To be honest, I was never fond of Latin.

I remember a particularly tense parent-teacher conference when I was a girl, during which the teacher implied that I wasn’t well-suited for the subject. My mother, who was then at the height of her passion for genealogy, disagreed—and so I continued studying Latin, under extreme duress.

In later years, I discovered that I shared my mom’s passion for genealogy—and when I started seeing old documents with Latin phrases such Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“We came, We saw, We conquered”), my early education studying the Latin language started paying off.

So now, I’d like to share some tips for understanding old Latin terms you may encounter in your own genealogy research.

Dates: “Instant,” “Ultimo” and “Proximo”

The three most common old Latin terms for dates are: instant, ultimo, and proximo, which refer to the present month, last month and next month respectively.

  • Instant (often abbreviated “inst.”): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month.
  • Ultimo (often abbreviated “ult.”): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from the previous month.
  • Proximo (often abbreviated “prox.”): Proximo refers to something that will occur next month.

Notice in the following obituary, the death date is reported as “the 29th ultimo.” Since the obit was published on 5 October 1838, this is saying Elizabeth Grady died 29 September 1838.

obituary for Elizabeth Grady, Charleston Courier newspaper article 5 October 1838

Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 5 October 1838, page 2

Genealogy Tip: References should be interpreted as relative, and not exact. Sometimes notices are copied from newspaper to newspaper, and if a notice was republished more than 30 days from its first publication, the interpretation would be incorrect. As a result, always verify death dates with official documents and even tombstones. (See the related Blog article Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers).

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Widows and Widowers: “Consort” and “Relict”

Two similar historical Latin terms often found in old obituaries are consort and relict; as noted in the following examples, they tell a researcher specifically if a woman was a widow prior to her death, or if her husband became a widower after she died.

  • Consort comes from the Latin word “consortium,” meaning partnership. It indicates that the husband survived the wife (i.e., her death ended the marriage partnership).

Notice in this example, Mrs. Ann Parrott is referred to as the “consort” of Mr. James Parrott.

death notice for Ann Parrott, Easton Gazette newspaper article 2 April 1824

Easton Gazette (Easton, Maryland), 2 April 1824, page 3

  • Relict is derived from the Latin “relictus” or “relicta,” which translate as widower or widow.

Notice in this newspaper clipping example, Margaret is referred to as the “relict,” or widow, of the late William McCarron.

death notice for Margaret McCarron, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 10 January 1852

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 10 January 1852, page 2

Genealogy Tip: If a Latin term ends in “us,” then it refers to a male; if it ends in an “a,” it generally refers to a female. For example, “avus” refers to grandfather, “avia” to grandmother, and “avi” is used to indicate grandparents. “Proavus” means great grandfather and “proava” means great grandmother. If you search the Latin word list at Genproxy.co.uk, you’ll notice that Latin even has specific words to specify if someone was a 2nd great grandparent.

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Single Status: “Caelebs”

As seen in the previous examples, relationship statuses can be specific in Latin. However, I must give a word of caution—meanings and interpretations change over time.

To illustrate, let’s examine the Latin word caelebs, which is related to the word celibate.

Most genealogy researchers define caelebs as a man who was single—so if you didn’t explore further, you might assume that caelebs indicated someone who had never been married.

However, try entering caelebs into the Perseus Latin Dictionary at Tufts University. Did you see that its definition includes “widower”?

And now search early newspapers for the term. This 1807 newspaper article implies that the definition includes a man (or in the case of caelibia, a woman), in search of a wife.

article about caelebs, Gazette newspaper article 13 November 1809

Gazette (Portland, Maine), 13 November 1809, page 1

Another newspaper article, this one from 1977, reports that a 14th century definition for the equivalent of caelebs—bachelor—applied to candidates for knighthood, and those who had earned an academic degree.

article about caelebs, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 May 1977, page 19

Latin Terms Describing Death Status

Legal documentation may include abbreviations regarding the status of a decedent.

Did a person have heirs? Were the children legitimate or illegitimate, and did some or all children die within the lifetime of a parent?

Here is a list of frequently used abbreviations—to understand them better, acquaint yourself with some of the more common terms, such as “decessit” and “obdormio,” which mean died or fell asleep, “legitima” (legitimate), “sine” (without), “matris” and “patris” (mother and father), and “prole” (issue or offspring).

Common Latin Phrase Abbreviations

  • aas (anno aetatis suae): died in the year of his/her age
  • dsp (decessit sine prole): indicates a person died without issue; i.e., no children
  • dspl (decessit sine prole legitima): died without legitimate issue
  • dspm (decessit sine prole malus): died without sons
  • dspml (decessit sine prole malus legitima): died without legitimate sons
  • dspms (decessit sine prole malus suivre): died without surviving sons
  • dsps (decessit sine prole suivre): died without surviving issue
  • dvm (decessit vita matris): died in the lifetime of the mother
  • dvp (decessit vita patris): died in the lifetime of the father
  • ob caelebs (obdormio caelebs): died single or as a bachelor
  • osp (obiit sine prole): died without issue or children
  • q.s. (quod suivre): which follows
  • q.v. (quod vide): which see
  • sp (sine prole): without issue or children
  • spf (sine prole femina): without daughters
  • spl (sine prole legitima): without legitimate issue
  • spm (since prole mascula): without sons
  • sps (sine prole superstite): without surviving issue
  • vf (vita fratris): in the lifetime of his brother
  • viz (videlicet): namely
  • vm (vita matris): in the lifetime of his mother
  • vp (vita patris): in the lifetime of his father
  • vs (vita sororis): in the lifetime of his sister

Strategies for Translating Latin

With all Latin terms, apply strategies to make sure you interpret a document correctly.

  • Read the entire document or article to see if a phrase was reiterated in English.
  • Examine the syntax within the presented context.
  • See if there is a corresponding or follow-up document to verify information (such as in a probate file).

Also, consult a variety of resources, such as these:

Do you have a question about a Latin phrase you’ve encountered in your family history research? If so, please ask it in the comments section and we’ll try to answer it for you.

More articles about old terms found in historical newspapers: