How to Research Your Genealogy with Google & Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how to use the information you find in old newspapers to conduct Google searches that help your genealogy research.

So you just found “the” newspaper article about your ancestor that you were hoping to find. You’re excited and can’t believe what you just learned. That’s great! Congratulations! But don’t stop there. What’s next?

The next step is to find out more about the information in that newspaper article. Take that article and enhance what you just learned by searching Google.

photo of a magnifying glass

Photo: magnifying glass. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re not familiar with all that Google offers, know that it’s much more than just a search engine. In some cases it also includes content that Google has digitized and made available, such as in the case of Google Books—a must for genealogy researchers. In other aspects it is a specialized search engine that is meant to search for specific content like images or videos. Adding Google searches to your genealogy research routine will help you uncover more facts about your ancestor’s life, complementing the information you learn from old newspapers.

Googling Historical Events

In some cases finding the perfect newspaper article might mean finding one that doesn’t even mention your ancestor by name. Instead, perhaps the news article provides confirmation about an event your ancestor experienced.

One story I’ve heard repeatedly in my family involved one of my paternal great-grandmothers. The story involves the 1933 Long Beach (California) earthquake and how angry my great-grandmother was because all of her china, stored in a china hutch, was destroyed by that quake. While I knew there was a 1933 earthquake, I wanted to learn more about how it would have affected my family. Now unfortunately, my great-grandmother isn’t here to ask about that story—but I did get a sense of the magnitude of that earthquake and the resulting damage by reading about it in newspapers. In turn, this historical news information helped me better understand what my great-grandmother experienced.

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This Long Beach earthquake occurred on 10 March 1933 and registered 6.4 on the Richter scale. At least 120 people lost their lives in the earthquake, and there was millions of dollars in property damage. In retrospect, my great grandmother was probably very lucky that her china was the only casualty.

front-page news about the Long Beach earthquake, Evening Tribune newspaper article 11 March 1933

Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 11 March 1933, page 1

Once I found some newspaper articles that detailed the quake aftermath, I turned to Google and searched on the keywords “1933 Long Beach Earthquake.” Of course I found articles and books that tell me more about this earthquake, but what I was most excited about was the video footage I found via a Google search, on the free website Internet Archive. Internet Archive is a wonderful source for digitized books as well as microfilm, audio, and video files.

The video footage showed me what Long Beach looked like just after the earthquake and allowed me a glimpse of my great-grandmother’s world as a 29-year-old wife and mother. One aspect that really hit home was that my grandfather was a 7-year-old schoolboy at this time, and many of the local schools suffered significant destruction. Luckily the earthquake happened at 5:55 p.m. on a Friday so kids were most likely at home when the quake struck.

Finding Images with Google

A continued search on Google Images (available by clicking on Images at the top of your Google Search results page, or by going to the website Google Images and entering your search keywords) provided me with images of the damage caused by the earthquake. I could then click on one of those images and go to the corresponding website. One of the benefits of Google is searching by words or images.

Search Tip: When searching on Google, don’t just stop with the Web results. At the top left of your results page, click on Images to see images that match your search terms, or click on Videos or Books to see what videos or books have applicable information for you as well.

My next steps in telling the story of my great-grandparents is writing up a narrative about this earthquake they experienced, adding my dad’s memories of his grandmother, and including newspaper accounts, images, and links to the relevant videos, so that my children—and eventually my grandchildren—can better understand this event my family lived through.

Researching with Google Books

Remember those missing husbands? If you read one of my previous Blog articles, Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy, you may have noticed that in order for me to learn more about the stories of the missing men, I also searched Google Books. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Books, it is a Google search engine that includes digitized books as well as a “card catalog” of books. Because Google partners with libraries, you can find everything from family histories, city directories, local histories, DAR publications, and occupational and union journals. Google Books is a great complement to your newspaper research.

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In that Blog article, I showed a newspaper ad that I found about one of the men I highlighted in the article, Henry Hooyer (a.k.a. H. L. Hooyer):

missing husband ads, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements, 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

After finding this “missing husband ad,” I wanted to know more about Hooyer and his disappearance. I knew later newspaper articles might exist, but I also wanted to see if Google Books might provide me with some information. A missing husband could be “missing” for a number of reasons—including disappearing as a cheap alternative to divorce, or perhaps some tragedy had befallen him.

My search on Google Books paid off. I was able to find out more about his disappearance through digitized copies of the Leather Worker’s Journal, the journal of the International United Brotherhood of Leather Workers on Horse Goods, available on Google Books. Notices in his union journal included more information about the disappearance, his physical stats, and that his occupation was harness cutter at Schoelkopf’s when he disappeared on August 19th.

article about Henry Hooyer, The Leather Workers’ Journal magazine article October 1907

The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907. Credit: Google Books.

What Will You Google?

So how do I use Google after I find a newspaper article? I use the newspaper article as my foundation and then take clues from it to try to find other information in digitized books, images, videos and websites. For me, what I find in a newspaper leads me to more questions which I resolve by searching for additional newspaper articles in GenealogyBank and a search in Google.

Search Tip: Just like with any search engine, remember when searching for an ancestor to try different versions of their name including initials. A Google Advanced Search, available from the drop-down menu on the gear icon at the top right of your Google search results page, will allow you to narrow your search.

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Missing Men: Lost Husband Ads in Newspapers for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explores a family history resource in old newspapers that may surprise you: missing husband ads.

The Internet, text messaging, email, cell phones, social media and instant messaging…today we take for granted the convenience and peace of mind that having access to a person at the drop of a hat—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—brings. When I was a teenager my parents knew that if I drove somewhere they would not hear from me again until I returned home. If I was going to be late I would find a telephone booth and call but there was no way to be in touch constantly. In today’s world, parents panic if they don’t get an immediate response from their cell phone-attached youngsters.

Imagine a time when, if someone left the house and didn’t return, there were few ways to track them down.

Immigrant Disappearances

I was confronted with this reality years ago when I researched a client’s grandfather who had come to the United States in the early 20th century to seek out a better life for his family. The idea, like for many immigrants, was that he would emigrate first to find work and then make enough money to bring his wife and children over to their new home.

Instead they never heard from him again. No one knew what happened to him. The family wasn’t sure if he had died en route or years after arriving in America. Back at the time he disappeared, there was little that could be done to find a person who simply vanished into thin air. In some cases leaving without a trace was seen as a preferable option to a difficult or expensive divorce proceeding. In other tragic cases, an unfortunate mishap or act of violence was the reason for an unintended disappearance.

Missing Husband Newspaper Ads

So what did 19th and 20th century wives do when their husbands left and never returned? They used the newspaper. Specific newspaper articles targeting missing husbands existed, as in the case of the Jewish Daily Forward, which for a time included a column entitled the “Gallery of Missing Men” that provided descriptions and photos of husbands who had deserted their wives.

Newspapers also provided women the option of taking out a personal advertisement in the classifieds asking for the public’s help in finding their missing husbands.

These missing husband newspaper ads might be a surprising source of family history information, helping you fill in some details about your ancestors that you can’t find elsewhere.

Consider these two advertisements found in a 1907 Texas newspaper from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, both placed by women pleading for the public’s help in finding their husbands.

missing husband ads, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisements 12 September 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 12 September 1907, page 8

In the case of the second advertisement placed by Mrs. H. L. Hooyer, her husband Henry was a harness maker who one day disappeared. In a previous advertisement more details of H. L. Hooyer were given, including a physical description and what he was wearing when he disappeared.

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 28 August 1907

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 28 August 1907, page 8

Mrs. H. L. Hooyer placed multiple advertisements in the Dallas Morning News looking for her husband. His union magazine also carried notices of his disappearance. An article in the October 1907 The Leather Worker’s Journal (available from Google Books) from the Dallas Chief of Police provided information as well as a $50 reward. (See: http://bit.ly/1gfsW1C)

missing husband ad for Henry Hooyer, The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907

The Leather Workers’ Journal, October 1907. Credit: Google Books.

Another personal notice in The Leather Workers’ Journal stated that the family feared Hooyer had been a victim of foul play, with an unconfirmed report of his drowning in Nebraska. Conducting a quick search for H. L. Hooyer in GenealogyBank confirms that he had been involved in at least one past criminal court case, as well as a civil case, months prior to his disappearance. Whether Henry did meet with an untimely death or not, his wife is listed in subsequent city directories and in the 1910 U.S. Census as a widow.

Find Lost Ancestors in Missing Person Ads

In an era when social media meant a daily or weekly newspaper, personal advertisements alerted the community to those who went missing. For wives who found themselves suddenly alone, the classifieds were one of their only options for seeking help locating their missing husbands.

Genealogy Search Tip: Remember, newspapers are full of family history information—which sometimes turns up in the most unexpected places. Don’t rule out the classified ads when searching newspapers; your distressed ancestor may have placed an ad for her missing husband, providing personal details to help fill out your family tree.