Remembering James Dean, Woody Guthrie & Janis Joplin with Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott looks up profiles, news stories and obituaries in old newspapers to learn more about these three famous entertainers who died this week in American history.

During this week in history (30 September to 4 October) America lost three of its most iconic entertainment personalities. America, and indeed the whole world, lost film actor James Dean in 1955, singer Woody Guthrie in 1967, and singer Janis Joplin in 1970.

Newspapers are filled with obituaries and profiles that help us better understand the lives of our ancestors—and the famous people who lived during their times. The following newspaper articles about these three famous Americans are good examples.

James Dean (1931-1955)

Although he only starred in three movies in his short lifetime, James Dean was already being compared to Marlon Brando when he died. In 1955 Dean shot to stardom as a result of his starring role of Cal Trask in East of Eden, which earned him the first-ever posthumous nomination for an Academy Award. For most of us today, James Dean is best known for his role as Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause. At the time of his death, Dean had just finished filming his now-famous role as Jett Rink in the film Giant, and had set off in his Porsche sports car to indulge in his passion for car racing at a racetrack in Salinas, California, in the upcoming weekend. Dean never made it to Salinas.

How did James Dean die so young? As you can read in this article from a 1955 Texas newspaper, a tragic automobile accident claimed the life of James Dean at the age of only 24.

Car Collision Kills Actor James Dean, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 1 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 1 October 1955, page 1

Then just two days later, the Dallas Morning News again reported on the Dean tragedy, this time focusing on his funeral to be held in Dean’s home town of Fairmount, Indiana.

Funeral Services for Dean Planned in Indiana Saturday, Dallas Morning News newspaper article, 3 October 1955

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 October 1955, page 18

This newspaper article not only provides a fascinating look at the early life of James Dean, but also reports the stark reactions of his costars such as Elizabeth Taylor, who “took it the hardest” and was “crying unashamedly.”

I always thought James Dean was buried in Hollywood; now that I know he lies at rest just a couple hours from my home, I will be taking a future road trip to pay my respects to this marvelous actor and icon of youth angst. Interesting note: this same small Indiana town is also the hometown of another American cultural icon, Jim Davis, the cartoonist and creator of “Garfield.”

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)

While some folks reading this might be more familiar with Arlo, the son of Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, many musicians and music historians would agree with the claim in this 1971 New Jersey newspaper article that Woody is “generally considered America’s greatest balladeer.”

Okie Folk Poet [Woody Guthrie] Loved Underdog, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 27 June 1971

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 27 June 1971, page 102

Woody Guthrie wrote more than 1,000 songs, of which more than 400 are preserved in the Library of Congress (and dozens of which populate my iPad). He also wrote an autobiography Bound for Glory(also on my iPad), and has been acknowledged as a major musical influence on such modern-day musicians as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and dozens of others. His best known musical piece might well be “This Land Is Your Land.”

When he succumbed to his 15-year battle with Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967, the news of Guthrie’s death was carried from coast-to-coast. This obituary from a 1967 Louisiana newspaper makes note of a fact still true about Woody today: “Many persons heard Guthrie’s songs without ever knowing his name. Among those who have recorded Woody’s songs are Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.”

Folk-Singer [Woody] Guthrie Dies, Times-Picayune newspaper obituary, 4 October 1967

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 4 October 1967, page 8

Being a born and raised Clevelander (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it was especially nice to read a 1987 news article from my hometown Cleveland newspaper that reported the 1988 Class of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: not only was Woody Guthrie being honored—but also a singer whom he greatly influenced, Bob Dylan.

Lads, Boys, Girls, Bob [Dylan] in Hall, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 October 1987

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 October 1987, page 83

Oh, and just in case you are a fan of the website FindAGrave.com, I’ll let you in on a “secret.” There may be a memorial stone to Woody in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma, but Woody’s not there. His ashes were actually spread at Coney Island, New York.

Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

The year was 1970. America was at war; the Vietnam War was raging in its 11th year. The fight over the war raged across our nation’s home front. The divisions that this war caused throughout America were evident in families, public protests, college campuses, and beyond. Rock and roll music was a boiling caldron fueled by many of these divisions (for instance my parents would not allow rock and roll in my house). Into this scene burst some of America’s most noted rock artists.

One of these was one of my personal favorites, Janis Joplin. Her name is forever welded to “Mercedes Benz” in my mind, a song she recorded just two days before her untimely death in 1970 at the age of only 27. As you can see it was Page One news in this 1970 article from a Texas newspaper.

Singer Janis Joplin Found Dead in Hotel, Dallas Morning News newspaper obituary 5 October 1970

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 5 October 1970, page 1

As you can imagine there followed numerous articles that mourned the loss of this one-of-a-kind singer. Other newspapers seized the occasion to rail away at the excesses of America’s youth.

This 1970 article from a North Carolina newspaper reported that Janis had signed her will only three days before her death, and left half her estate to her parents and one quarter each to her brother and sister.

Janis Joplin Left Estate to Family, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 22 October 1970

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 October 1970, page 11

Janis had a unique voice and style. In this 1969 article from a California newspaper, reporter Carol Olten had this to say about Janis: “Janis Joplin never leaves doubts in anyone’s mind about being THE rock ’n’ roll woman. Any musicians who appear on stage with her have been more or less reduced to mashed potatoes.”

Janis Joplin Here Saturday, San Diego Union newspaper article 28 September 1969

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 28 September 1969, page 78

Janis was indeed quite the woman of rock and roll. As reported in this 1994 article from an Illinois newspaper, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 1995 Class of inductees.

[Janis] Joplin, [Frank] Zappa Join Hall of Fame, Register Star newspaper article 17 November 1994

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 17 November 1994, page 35

By the way, whenever you are in Cleveland, Ohio, pay a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famewhere you can see some of Janis’s memorabilia and a whole lot more. From personal experience, I suggest you allow at least two days for your visit!

Obituaries provide personal details about someone’s life that we can’t find elsewhere—whether they are our ancestors or famous people we’re interested in. GenealogyBank features two collections of obituaries:

Dig into these obituary archives today and see what you can discover about your family and favorite celebrities!

GenealogyBank – adds 170 newspapers from 31 States – 1830 to today

In the last few weeks GenealogyBank has added a staggering 7.2 million records and documents! In all of 2008 we added 39 million records and documents

GenealogyBank hits new high: 253 million records and documents – If each document was a person – that would be more than the population of the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Canada combined!

Specifically in the last few weeks GenealogyBank added:
170 newspapers from 31 states
Content from 1830 to the present

Here is a list of the titles added:

Alaska
Juneau. Daily Record-Miner. 3 issues. 7/16/1910 to 10/10/1910

Alabama
Jasper. *Daily Mountain Eagle. 1/22/1998 to Current

Arkansas
Benton. *Benton Courier. 5/8/2008 to Current
Carlisle. *Carlisle Independent. 6/6/2008 to Current
Jonesboro. Jonesboro Evening Sun. 120 issues. 10/3/1905 to 11/9/1921
Little Rock. Arkansas Gazette. 17 issues. 8/23/1842 to 10/11/1899
Malvern. *Malvern Daily Record. 1/1/2008 to Current

Arizona
Nogales. *Monitor. 1 issue. 9/5/1890
Tucson. Amigos. 1 issue. 2/9/1977
Tucson. Tucsonense. 159 issues. 1/2/1923 to 12/29/1923

California
Colton. Chicano. 34 issues. 3/14/1974 to 6/16/1977
Los Angeles. *Aguacero. 2 issues. 3/24/1878 to 3/31/1878
Los Angeles. Clamor Publico. 6 issues. 10/9/1855 to 4/25/1857
Los Angeles. *Con Safos. 2 issues. 3/21/1969 to 6/1/1970
Los Angeles. *Correo Mejicano. 1 issue. 10/18/1917
Los Angeles. *Cronica. 1 issue. 9/12/1874
Los Angeles. *Democrata. 6 issues. 10/14/1882 to 11/4/1882
Los Angeles. Dos Republicas. 3 issues. 10/28/1892 to 2/1/1893
Los Angeles. *Eco de la Patria. 2 issues. 2/14/1878 to 2/21/1878
Los Angeles. *Fe en la Democracia. 2 issues. 10/29/1884 to 11/3/1884
Los Angeles. Heraldo de Mexico. 145 issues. 5/20/1919 to 11/29/1928
Los Angeles. *Joven. 2 issues. 9/18/1877 to 4/12/1878
Los Angeles. *Malcriado. 1 issue. 4/17/1927
Los Angeles. *Mesazero. 1 issue. 12/21/1954
Los Angeles. *Monitor Mejicano. 10 issues. 10/26/1895 to 10/29/1898
Los Angeles. Prensa. 68 issues. 7/26/1919 to 12/22/1921
Los Angeles. *Regeneracion. 250 issues. 9/5/1910 to 10/6/1917
Los Angeles. *Union. 3 issues. 11/21/1896 to 5/15/1897
San Francisco. *Centro America. 20 issues. 2/20/1921 to 8/25/1921
San Francisco. *Hispano America. 48 issues. 1/3/1931 to 12/5/1931
San Francisco. *Imparcial. 5 issues. 11/20/1931 to 2/1/1935
San Francisco. *Jalamate. 10 issues. 1/30/1972 to 6/9/1972
San Francisco. Mefistofeles. 1 issue. 3/23/1918
San Francisco. *Seminario Imparcial. 12 issues. 8/20/1938 to 11/12/1938
San Francisco. Voz del Nuevo Mundo. 97 issues. 3/27/1865 to 9/23/1884

Colorado
Colorado Springs. Gazette-Telegraph. 3 issues. 9/29/1903 to 9/16/1922
San Luis. Adobe. 1 issue. 8/31/1975

Connecticut
New London. New London Democrat. 1 issue. 5/17/1851
Norwich. Norwich Morning Bulletin. 2 issues. 12/3/1875 to 8/13/1887
Shelton. *Fairfield Sun. 9/18/2008 to Current

Florida
Tampa. Diario de Tampa. 13 issues. 8/21/1908 to 7/10/1911
Tampa. Internacional. 16 issues. 6/30/1939 to 8/7/1942
Tampa. Revista de Cuba Libre. 1 issue. 8/27/1898
Tampa. *Traduccion Prensa. 14 issues. 4/9/1941 to 9/4/1956
Tampa. *West Tampa Leader. 1 issue. 12/8/1940
Tampa. *Ybor City Sunday News. 1 issue. 11/18/1951

Hawaii
Kailua. *West Hawaii Today. 8/31/2008 to Current

Idaho
Idaho City. Idaho Register. 3 issues. 11/17/1905 to 4/23/1915
Twin Falls. Twin Falls News. 2 issues. 4/30/1919 to 6/18/1919

Illinois
Centralia. Centralia Sentinel. 7 issues. 1/12/1865 to 6/15/1865
Chicago. Latin Times. 2 issues. 9/24/1960 to 4/6/1962
Chicago. Noticia Mundial. 2 issues. 10/9/1927 to 10/23/1927
Chicago. Vida Latina. 1 issue. 2/21/1958

Kansas
Abilene. *Abilene Reflector-Chronicle. 12/17/1999 to Current
Dodge City. *Dodge City Daily Globe. 8/9/2005 to Current

Kentucky
Corbin. *Times-Tribune. 6/17/2008 to Current

Louisiana
New Orleans. Abeja. 166 issues. 5/24/1830 to 4/25/1831
New Orleans. Times Picayune. 3,086 issues. 1/11/1861 to 10/22/1900
New Orleans. Times Picayune. 2,856 issues. 1/26/1901 to 12/30/1922

Massachusetts
Boston. Boston Journal. 2,176 issues. 7/6/1866 to 8/31/1897
Boston. *Liberator. 72 issues. 9/6/1896 to 4/15/1906
Brockton. *Enterprise. 10/9/2008 to Current
Dedham. Norfolk Democrat. 2 issues. 12/27/1850 to 12/2/1853
Stoughton. Stoughton Sentinel. 79 issues. 7/30/1864 to 11/11/1876

Maryland
Baltimore. Baltimore American. 4 issues. 7/23/1905 to 7/13/1910

Michigan
Grand Rapids. *Grand Rapids Press. 3,138 issues. 7/1/1901 to 12/30/1922
Jackson. *Jackson Citizen Patriot. 137 issues. 8/15/1849 to 12/2/1858

Missouri
Kansas City. Cosmopolita. 1 issue. 1/30/1915
Kansas City. Kansas City Times. 99 issues. 5/13/1884 to 9/20/1894

Mississippi
Vicksburg. Daily Commercial. 1 issues. 7/16/1878

Montana
Helena. Western Clarion. 1 issue. 9/30/1865

Nebraska
Nebraska City. Daily Nebraska Press. 1 issue. 3/25/1876

New Jersey
Trenton. *Trenton Evening Times. 880 issues. 5/7/1883 to 12/30/1922
Trenton. *Trenton Sunday Times-Advertiser. 497 issues. 6/1/1902 to 6/23/1918

New Mexico
Albuquerque. Indito. 1 issue. 4/4/1901
Albuquerque. Nuevo Mundo. 5 issues. 12/25/1897 to 7/28/1900
Bernalillo. *Agricultor Moderno. 1 issue. 3/23/1916
Bernalillo. *Espejo. 1 issue. 3/8/1879
Bernalillo. *Voz del Valle. 53 issues. 10/12/1899 to 1/31/1901
Deming. *Deming Headlight. 5 issues. 1/24/1891 to 2/18/1899
Deming. *Deming Tribune. 1 issue. 12/25/1884
Deming. *Democracia. 1 issue. 1/14/1906
Elizabethtown. *Mining Bulletin. 17 issues. 1/4/1900 to 8/11/1900
Estancia. *Estancia News. 4 issues. 9/1/1905 to 7/5/1907
Las Cruces. *Borderer. 1 issue. 8/16/1873
Las Cruces. Dona Ana County Republican. 2 issues. 1/19/1901 to 3/30/1901
Las Cruces. Labrador. 2 issues. 1/25/1901 to 3/10/1905
Las Vegas. *Boletin de Anuncios. 1 issue. 1/19/1878
Las Vegas. *Cachiporra. 1 issue. 10/19/1888
Las Vegas. *Campaign Bulletin. 2 issues. 8/25/1880 to 8/27/1880
Las Vegas. *Hispano Americano. 6 issues. 4/21/1892 to 10/15/1892
Las Vegas. *Las Vegas Daily Optic. 11 issues. 3/1/1890 to 7/8/1893
Las Vegas. *Las Vegas Weekly Optic. 2 issues. 10/23/1880 to 10/30/1880
Las Vegas. Revista Catolica. 54 issues. 4/1/1888 to 2/10/1895
Las Vegas. *Sol de Mayo. 8 issues. 5/1/1891 to 7/24/1891
Las Vegas. *Voz del Pueblo. 4 issues. 9/21/1895 to 12/13/1904
Maldonado. *Estrella. 1 issue. 1/30/1897
Mesilla. Mesilla News. 1 issue. 12/18/1880
Mora. *Cronica de Mora. 2 issues. 6/13/1889 to 11/2/1889
Mora. *Mora Echo. 2 issues. 9/16/1890

Mora. *Mosquito. 15 issues. 12/3/1891 to 6/30/1892
Raton. *Relampago. 11 issues. 5/21/1904 to 8/6/1904
Rincon. *Rincon Weekly. 11 issues. 8/29/1895 to 5/11/1897
Rincon. *Roswell Record. 1 issue. 7/14/1893
San Acacio. *Comercio. 1 issue. 7/11/1907
San Marcial. *San Marcial Bee. 2 issues. 6/10/1893 to 3/29/1902
Santa Fe. Cachiporrota. 1 issue. 10/16/1890
Santa Fe. *Clarin Mejicano. 1 issue. 8/10/1873
Santa Fe. Daily New Mexican. 227 issues. 4/15/1871 to 3/28/1872
Santa Fe. *Gauntlet. 1 issue. 6/25/1894
Santa Fe. *Nuevo Mejicano. 2 issues. 4/25/1863 to 9/24/1881
Santa Fe. *Nuevo Mexicano. 40 issues. 8/16/1890 to 5/9/1908
Santa Fe. *Registro de Nuevo Mexico. 1 issue. 5/2/1916
Santa Fe. *Santa Fe Daily New Mexican. 23 issues. 8/8/1885 to 2/9/1887
Santa Fe. Santa Fe Weekly New Mexican and Livestock Journal. 2 issues. 3/22/1888 to 10/26/1893
Santa Fe. *Verdad. 1 issue. 9/12/1844
Santa Fe. *Voz del Pueblo. 2 issues. 4/27/1889 to 6/1/1889
Santa Fe. Weekly New Mexican.1 issue. 9/27/1919
Socorro. Defensor del Pueblo. 8 issues. 3/30/1906 to 5/24/1935
Springer. Colfax County Stockman. 1 issue. 1/6/1912
Wagon Mound. *Combate. 198 issues. 12/6/1902 to 11/2/1918

New York
Albany. Albany Evening Journal. 98 issues. 5/31/1850 to 6/1/1874
Garden City. Eco. 26 issues. 5/1/1930 to 5/15/1932
New York. *Artes y Letras. 56 issues. 10/21/1933 to 10/21/1939

New York. Cacara Jicara. 2 issues. 10/9/1897 to 12/13/1897
New York. Ecos de Nueva York. 31 issues. 2/26/1950 to 1/6/1957
New York. (Brooklyn). Espana Libre. 12 issues. 11/10/1939 to 8/14/1942

New York. *Novedades. 274 issues. 1/3/1880 to 12/21/1918
New York. Papagayo. 1 issue. 2/23/1855
New York. Patria. 1 issue. 3/14/1892
New York. Prensa. 1 issue. 8/24/1925
New York. Puerto Rico en Marcha. 1 issue. 6/21/1951

Ohio
Cincinnati. Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. 1,592 issues. 5/1/1869 to 6/30/1890
Wooster. Wooster Republican. 112 issues. 1/4/1855 to 12/30/1922
Cleveland. Plain-Dealer. 355 issues. 11/26/1914 to 12/30/1922

Oregon
Portland. Oregonian. 3,355 issues. 4/1/1861 to 7/12/1906

Pennsylvania
Philadelphia. Public Ledger. 3,364 issues. 3/25/1836 to 12/31/1873

Rhode Island
Pawtucket. Pawtucket Times. 3 issues. 1/8/1920 to 1/28/1921

South Carolina
Aiken. *Aiken Standard. 8/27/2008 to Current
Pickens. *Pickens Sentinel. 8/13/2008 to Current

Texas
Beaumont. Beaumont Enterprise and Journal. 4 issues. 4/27/1906 to 4/9/1911
Borger. *Borger News Herald. 6/11/2008 to Current
Brownsville. Cronista del Valle. 3 issues. 12/15/1924 to 9/8/1925
Brownsville. Puerto 16 issues. 7/24/1954 to 12/26/1959
Brownsville. Republican 34 issues. 10/23/1862 to 7/23/1868
Cleburne. *Cleburne Times Review. 7/18/2008 to Current
Corpus Christi. Horizonte. 2 issues. 11/26/1879 to 3/3/1880
Corpus Christi. *Progreso. 31 issues. 6/23/1939 to 3/15/1940
Corpus Christi. Verdad. 12 issues. 11/11/1955 to 9/6/1957
El Paso. Atalaya Bautista: Semanario Evangelico Bautista. 116 issues. 1/5/1911 to 6/26/1919
El Paso. *Clarin del Norte. 1 issue. 12/27/1906
El Paso. Continental. 1 issue. 6/5/1936
El Paso. *Dia. 2 issues. 2/18/1919 to 2/23/1919
El Paso. El Paso Evening Tribune. 1 issue. 6/23/1893
El Paso. Noticias. 5 issues. 10/21/1899 to 1/20/1900
El Paso. Republica. 8 issues. 11/2/1919 to 5/22/1920
Galveston. Galveston News. 6 issues. 8/20/1877 to 9/1/1881
Kingsville. Eco. 4 issues. 5/1/1934 to 12/1/1934
Kingsville. Notas de Kingsville. 29 issues. 6/29/1950 to 5/12/1960
Kingsville. Tex. Mex. Reflector. 3 issues. 5/21/1921 to 1/21/1923
Laredo. *Cronica. 95 issues. 1/1/1910 to 4/18/1914
Laredo. Evolucion. 31 issues. 7/27/1917 to 1/30/1920
San Antonio. Epoca. 4 issues. 11/24/1918 to 7/24/1927
San Antonio. Heraldo de Mexicano. 8 issues. 1/29/1928 to 9/8/1929
San Antonio. Imparcial de Texas. 45 issues. 9/19/1918 to 9/30/1920
San Antonio. Prensa. 4,781 issues. 10/1/1916 to 6/13/1957
San Antonio. Revista Mexicana. 158 issues. 5/28/1916 to 7/6/1919

Vermont
St. Albans. St. Albans Daily Messenger. 2 issues. 2/29/1916 to 7/5/1918

West Virginia
Montgomery. *Montgomery Herald. 4/1/2008 to Current
Oak Hill. *Fayette Tribune. 6/11/2008 to Current
Princeton. *Princeton Times. 4/17/2008 to Current

Wishing you a Merry and a Happy …..

We wish all of you the very best!

It has been a wonderful year for us here at GenealogyBank.

Everyday we receive notes and cards from genealogists sharing their appreciation for what they’ve found in GenealogyBank – like this comment we received yesterday:

Thanks also for the new additions
to the Historic Newspapers file.
You are continuing to make
the best archive of old newspapers
even better!

Wishing you all success in finding every article about your ancestors in America’s old newspapers!