Where Did My Ancestors Work? Newspapers Reveal Occupations

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this blog post, Scott shows how old newspapers can tell you a lot about your ancestors’ occupations and workplaces, and thereby better understand their lives and the times in which they lived.

Everyone works. They say the only things you can’t avoid are death and taxes, but I’d have to add “working” to that list. And in our genealogy this is a good thing. Searching for information about our ancestors’ occupations and work can add significantly to our family trees. This is especially true when you work with the thousands of newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

We can gain some exciting and interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors when we add their occupations to our usual family research. As a matter of fact, my family tree is peppered with some wonderful discoveries that came as the result of researching the occupations and workplaces of my ancestors.

One of the aspects of my youth that I regret is that I neither paid close enough attention to, nor asked enough questions about, the work of several of my ancestors who are now gone.

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Uncle Chuck

One example is my uncle Chuck. I remember from my youth and family stories that he worked for a company with the name of Acme-Cleveland, but not much more. So not long ago I decided to do some research to see if I could learn more about one of my favorite uncles.

When I searched on the company name “Acme Cleveland,” GenealogyBank’s search results page showed 2,600 hits. One of those results was this 1978 newspaper article which gave a detailed history of the company, explaining that its roots go all the way back to 1896. It also mentioned that the headquarters were at one time considered “to be one of the most modern manufacturing plants in the United States.” This is a fact I never knew when we would drive by and I would always shout in the car, as though my parents and sisters didn’t know: “That’s where Uncle Chuck works!” In the last paragraph of this old newspaper article they even quoted my uncle.

National Acme Division of Acme-Cleveland, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 July 1978

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 July 1978, page 23

 My Great-Great-Grandfather Frederick Evenden

In another instance, I decided to do some occupational research on my mother’s family. She lost her dad when she was only 12 so I didn’t have much to go on—but one of the stories my mother had shared was that her paternal grandfather, Frederick Evenden (1851-1918) had worked for a firm by the name of Chandler and Rudd. I began my newspaper search and soon found several advertisements for Chandler and Rudd published in an 1876 newspaper. It immediately sounded like a wonderful grocery store. Listed in the advertisements were enticing entries for cheese, nuts, fruit, etc. What a cornucopia of edible offerings!

food ads for grocer Chandler & Rudd, Cleveland Leader newspaper advertisements 28 November 1876

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 November 1876, page 8

Then I found this Chandler and Rudd advertisement in a 1907 newspaper for Easter week. It was fun to see they were offering some of the same Easter treats we can get today, such as Cream Easter Eggs, Marshmallow Eggs, and Chocolate Covered Almonds, plus some others I was unfamiliar with—like Sunshine Candies, Nut Puffs, and Chocolate Covered Fig Squares.

Easter ad for grocer Chandler and Rudd, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 March 1907

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 March 1907, page 9

My Grandfather-in-Law Pasquale D’Aquila

On my wife’s side of the family we are blessed to have many family members who owed their livelihoods to the iron mining industry. My wife’s paternal grandfather, Pasquale D’Aquila, was one of those men who toiled away in the austere conditions of the open pit iron ore mines of Northern Minnesota. This was only after he had spent a few years in the mines of Minas Gerais, Brazil; then Western Canada; and then Montana. Sadly, Pasquale passed away long before I joined the family, so I did some newspaper research on what it was like in the mines in his day.

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I first found this 1902 newspaper article. In addition to saying Hibbing, Minnesota, was “what is known in the expressive vernacular of the street as a ‘crackerjack,’” the article also stated: “Hibbing is at present the theater of greatest iron mining activity on the planet.”

Hibbing Theater of Big Iron Production, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 19 October 1902

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 19 October 1902, page 2

But of course it wasn’t all “crackerjack”—the mining work was hard and dangerous, as were other types of work such as railroads and sawmills. This 1903 newspaper article reported that more than 1,000 “casualties among the working people of Minnesota” had occurred in the past year.

Many Accidents During the Year, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 October 1903

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 October 1903, page 2

Sometimes it was dangerous just getting to work in the mines in those days, as reported in this 1911 newspaper article. The Scranton Mine was one of the mines Pasquale worked in, and the article explained an accident in detail—and reported that the men involved were John Lampi, Emil Jackson, and John Fari.

article about a train accident at the Scranton Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 November 1911

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 November 1911, page 3

Here’s another mining accident, reported in this 1916 newspaper article. The Albany Mine was another mine in which Pasquale worked, and this article explained how a dozen railroad cars, each filled with 50 tons of ore, broke loose and wrecked in the mine.

article about a train accident at the Albany Mine, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 5 November 1916

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 5 November 1916, page 8

This 1918 newspaper article reported another danger my ancestor faced: the scourge of Spanish influenza. This article explained that the area was under consideration for the imposition of martial law to combat the spread of this flu. The article detailed the situation in Grand Rapids, Gilbert, Hibbing, Aitkin, and Virginia, Minnesota, even listing an entire paragraph of the names of all those who died from the flu in Grand Rapids alone. No doubt, it had to have been a challenging life in a tough environment.

article about the Spanish flu, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1918

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1918, page 9

These many articles from the historical newspapers of GenealogyBank have added immensely to my family tree and my genealogy work. So when you get into your family history work, be sure to do some of your searching on the occupations and companies of your ancestors. These articles really add some wonderful depth and richness to your family tree!

Do you know what type of work your ancestors did for a living? Share their occupations with us in the comments.

Related Ancestor Occupation Research Articles:

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84 Minnesota Newspapers Now Online for Your Genealogy Research

Yesterday Minnesota celebrated the 156th anniversary of its statehood—it was admitted into the Union on 11 May 1858 as the 32nd state. The state’s name is based on a Native American Dakota word meaning “clear water,” and Minnesota is famous for its many beautiful lakes—hence the state’s nickname “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

photo of a sunset over Pose Lake, a small lake accessible only by foot; Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

Photo: sunset over Pose Lake, a small lake accessible only by foot; Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota. Credit: Reid Priedhorsky; Wikipedia.

If you are researching your ancestry from Minnesota, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online Minnesota newspaper archives: 84 titles to help you search your family history in the “North Star State,” providing coverage from 1849 to Today. There are more than 4 million articles and records in this online collection.

Dig into the archives and search for obituaries and other news articles about your ancestors in these recent and historical MN newspapers online. Our Minnesota newspapers are divided into two collections: Historical Newspapers (complete paper) and Recent Obituaries (obituaries only).

Search Minnesota Newspaper Archives (1849 – 1923)
Search Minnesota Recent Obituaries (1986 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Minnesota newspapers in the archives. Each newspaper title in this list is an active link that will take you directly to that paper’s search page, where you can begin searching for your ancestors by surnames, dates, keywords and more. The newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

Albany Stearns – Morrison Enterprise 7/18/2005 – 1/12/2011 Recent Obituaries
Apple Valley Apple Valley – Rosemount Sun-Current 2/22/2011 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Brooklyn Center Brooklyn Center Sun-Post 2/16/2011 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Brooklyn Park Brooklyn Park Sun-Post 1/26/2011 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Burnsville Burnsville Sun-Current 2/22/2010 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Champlin, Dayton Champlin – Dayton Press 8/15/2005 – 8/22/2013 Recent Obituaries
Chanhassen Chanhassen Villager 11/12/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Chaska Chaska Herald 11/19/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cloquet Pine Journal 5/17/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coon Rapids Blaine – Spring Lake Park Sun-Focus 2/6/2011 – 5/15/2012 Recent Obituaries
Crookston Crookston Daily Times 10/20/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Crow River South Crow River News – Rockford Area News Leader 11/21/2005 – 8/22/2013 Recent Obituaries
Crystal, Robbinsdale Crystal – Robbinsdale Sun-Post 2/16/2011 – 4/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Delano Delano Eagle 7/26/2005 – 8/22/2013 Recent Obituaries
Duluth Duluth News-Tribune 5/16/1881 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Daily News 7/2/1887 – 9/4/1892 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Weekly Tribune 1/6/1876 – 7/15/1887 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Minnesotian 4/24/1869 – 9/4/1875 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Minnesotian-Herald 9/11/1875 – 5/11/1878 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Lake Superior News 7/4/1878 – 1/27/1881 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Duluth Weekly News-Tribune 1/2/1897 – 6/26/1897 Newspaper Archives
Duluth Budgeteer News 6/9/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Duluth Duluth News Tribune 1/1/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eagan Eagan Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Eden Prairie News 10/22/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie St. Louis Park Sun-Sailor 2/9/2010 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Plymouth Sun-Sailor 1/26/2011 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Eden Prairie Sun-Current 2/22/2010 – 8/19/2013 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Bloomington Sun-Current 2/22/2010 – 8/19/2013 Recent Obituaries
Eden Prairie Richfield Sun-Current 1/25/2010 – 8/19/2013 Recent Obituaries
Edina Edina Sun-Current 1/28/2010 – 8/19/2013 Recent Obituaries
Excelsior Excelsior – Shorewood Sun-Sailor 2/22/2010 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Herald-Review 10/12/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Granite Falls Advocate Tribune 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hibbing Hibbing Daily Tribune 6/2/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hopkins Hopkins Sun-Sailor 1/11/2011 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Hutchinson Hutchinson Leader 11/10/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
International Falls Journal 8/25/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jordan Jordan Independent 12/10/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lakeville Lakeville Sun-Current 2/16/2011 – 3/6/2012 Recent Obituaries
Litchfield Litchfield Independent Review 10/15/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mankato Free Press 10/11/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Melrose Melrose Beacon 7/18/2005 – 1/13/2011 Recent Obituaries
Minneapolis Minneapolis Journal 1/1/1895 – 12/31/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Minneapolis Tidende 10/18/1895 – 12/28/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Afro-American Advance 5/27/1899 – 11/17/1900 Newspaper Archives
Minneapolis Columbia Heights – Fridley Sun-Focus 2/16/2011 – 4/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Minneapolis Star Tribune 1/21/1986 – Current Recent Obituaries
Minnetonka Minnetonka Sun-Sailor 2/22/2010 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Montevideo Montevideo American-News 11/11/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monticello Monticello Times 11/29/2006 – 8/15/2013 Recent Obituaries
Mound Laker 1/7/2011 – 6/14/2013 Recent Obituaries
Mounds View Mounds View – New Brighton – St. Anthony Sun-Focus 2/16/2011 – 4/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
New Hope New Hope – Golden Valley Sun-Post 1/26/2011 – 4/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Osseo, Maple Grove Osseo – Maple Grove Press 7/28/2005 – 8/22/2013 Recent Obituaries
Prior Lake Prior Lake American 10/10/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Redwood Falls Redwood Falls Gazette 10/3/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sartell Sartell Newsleader 10/14/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Savage Savage Pacer 10/3/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shakopee Shakopee Valley News 10/22/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sleepy Eye Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch 7/29/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. James St. James Plaindealer 11/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Joseph St. Joseph Newsleader 1/4/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Michael North Crow River News 4/17/2006 – 8/22/2013 Recent Obituaries
St. Paul St. Paul Daily Press 1/2/1868 – 12/29/1872 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Appeal 2/7/1903 – 11/24/1923 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Broad Axe 9/17/1891 – 6/11/1903 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul St. Paul Daily Pioneer 9/23/1854 – 12/31/1857 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Western Appeal 6/13/1885 – 12/29/1888 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Minnesota Pioneer 4/28/1849 – 1/20/1853 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Negro World 3/10/1900 – 6/9/1900 Newspaper Archives
St. Paul Sun Newspapers 1/10/2001 – 2/24/2010 Recent Obituaries
St. Paul St. Paul Pioneer Press 3/25/1988 – Current Recent Obituaries
Stillwater Stillwater Gazette 11/13/2000 – 10/30/2013 Recent Obituaries
Two Harbors Lake County News-Chronicle 5/11/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Virginia Mesabi Daily News 3/17/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Waconia Carver County News 8/4/2005 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Waconia Pioneer 9/15/2005 – 6/7/2013 Recent Obituaries
Waconia Waconia Patriot 8/3/2005 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Walker Pilot-Independent 12/18/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wayzata Wayzata – Orono – Long Lake Sun-Sailor 9/9/2010 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries
Winona Winona Post 2/12/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Winona Winona Daily News 5/15/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Young America Norwood Young America Times 8/4/2005 – 9/9/2013 Recent Obituaries

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post onto your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the newspaper links will be live.

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Mining for My Italian-American Wife’s Minnesota Hometown History

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about researching his ancestors’ lives and the history of the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota where they lived.

The most significant blessing in my life was when the young woman who is now my wife of 37 years said “yes” to my proposal of marriage. During our courtship I learned that she and her family were living in a part of the country that I was not particularly familiar with. OK, wait, I will rephrase that and be more honest about it. While the blessing part is 100% accurate, the fact of the matter is that when I met my future wife I did not know a plug nickel’s worth about her hometown area, which is located on the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. One of my favorite aspects of genealogy is learning the history of the times that goes along with discovering our ancestors and their information.

Learning the ancestry essentials from my wife was easy. Her family is 100% Italian on both sides, all four of her grandparents emigrated from central Italy to northern Minnesota for economic opportunity, I was going to be the first non-Italian to ever join her family (but that’s a story for a different time), northern Minnesota is far more beautiful than I had ever imagined, and the area owes its prosperity, and future, to the iron ore hiding in the soils of the Mesabi Iron Range.

photo of workers at the Scranton Mine in Minnesota in 1932

Author’s grandfather-in-law, Pasquale, during the Great Depression at the mines of the Mesabi Iron Range. This was the entire annual output of the ore from the Scranton Mine in all of 1932. From the collection of Scott Phillips.

Several years ago, as I was researching deeply into my wife’s Italian ancestry, I realized I had a hankering to learn even more about the history, background, and the life and times of the area in northern Minnesota that her Italian immigrant grandparents chose to call their new home. While I knew a lot from wonderful stories told to me by her grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and especially her parents, I was looking forward to learning even more.

So naturally I found myself clicking over to GenealogyBank.com to delve deeper into her Italian family’s past!

Utilizing the “Advanced Search” feature on the site, I began by looking up such keyword terms as Mesabi Iron Range, Hibbing, Chisholm, Eveleth, Minnesota, while tossing in a surname and a few other terms periodically. My depth of understanding was growing with every old newspaper article I was reading. As the expression goes, “It’s the next best thing to being there.”

For me, one of the most impressive features of GenealogyBank.com is the geographic reach of their more than 6,100 newspapers, which I was having a blast researching. It was thrilling to be reading a full page story from 1890 in the Chicago Herald titled “Mountains of Riches,” all about the early times on the Mesabi Range.

Mountains of Riches, Chicago Herald newspaper article 14 October 1891

Chicago Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 14 October 1890, page 9

Another interesting historical newspaper article was about the challenges of building the first railroad from Duluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior to the towns on the Iron Range, published in the Duluth News-Tribune.

A Road to the Mesabi, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 6 June 1891

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 6 June 1891, page 2

Of course, being an avid American baseball fan it was personally thrilling to find an old newspaper article in the Marietta Journal, in Marietta, Georgia, on a story from the movie Field of Dreams that was relating the true story of Doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. This time the story was being told by our family friend and a newspaper editor herself, Ms. Veda Ponikvar, of Minnesota’s Chisholm Free Press.

Real Character in 'Field of Dreams' Has Point of View, Marietta Journal newspaper article, 1 June 1991

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 1 June 1991, page 2

Then just for what seemed like good measure, I found myself reading an obituary from the Hibbing Daily Tribune for one of my wife’s uncles. It was an obituary that I didn’t have in my family tree.

Mike D'Aquila Newspaper Obituary, Hibbing Daily Tribune newspaper article, 21 September 1999

Hibbing Daily Tribune (Hibbing, Minnesota), 21 September 1999

This obituary brought back wonderful memories of family times gone by—especially since the article was noting that his funeral was held in The Church of the Immaculate Conception, which I was quickly remembering was known all over the Iron Range simply as “the Italian Church” since daily Mass was still said in Latin and Italian. There I was, all over again, sitting in those church pews surrounded by family.

Now here I sit, smiling and teary-eyed all at the same time.