Michigan Archives: 148 Newspapers for Genealogy Research

On 26 January 1837 Michigan was admitted into the Union as the 26th state, doubling the nation’s original total of 13. Located in the Great Lakes region, Michigan (including the Upper Peninsula) is America’s largest state east of the Mississippi River, and the 9th most populous state in the U.S.

photo of Upper Falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan

Photo: Upper Falls, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan. Credit: Attila Nagy; Wikimedia Commons.

If you are researching your family roots in Michigan, you will want to use GenealogyBank’s online MI newspaper archives: 148 titles to help you search your family history in “The Wolverine State,” providing news coverage, family stories and vital statistics from 1837 to Today. There are currently more than 31 million newspaper articles and records in our online Michigan archives!

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

Search Michigan Newspaper Archives (1837 – 1995)

Search Michigan Recent Obituaries (1995 – Current)

Here is our complete list of online Michigan 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 MI newspaper titles are listed alphabetically by city.

City Title Date Range* Collection
Adrian Daily Telegram 1/3/1893 – 12/28/1922 Newspaper Archives
Adrian Tri=weekly Telegram 9/25/1900 – 1/1/1903 Newspaper Archives
Adrian Daily Telegram 12/9/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News 1/2/1909 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times 9/1/1903 – 5/2/1908 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Michigan Argus 10/17/1879 – 12/27/1907 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Argus 11/16/1898 – 6/24/1907 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News-Argus 6/25/1907 – 5/2/1908 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor True Democrat 12/19/1845 – 3/8/1849 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News 4/3/2003 – 7/23/2009 Recent Obituaries
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News: Web Edition Articles 7/24/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bad Axe Huron Daily Tribune 12/17/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Baldwin Lake County Star 1/1/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bay City Bay City Times 1/2/1889 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Bay City Bay City Times 1/1/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bay City Bay City Times, The: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Big Rapids Pioneer 4/2/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bronson Bronson Journal 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Caro Tuscola County Advertiser 9/26/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cassopolis Cassopolis Vigilant 7/23/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlevoix Charlevoix Courier 1/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cheboygan Cheboygan Daily Tribune 10/5/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coldwater Coldwater Daily Reporter 11/9/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dearborn Arab American News 10/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Plaindealer 9/20/1889 – 5/19/1893 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Weekly Detroit Free Press 1/2/1886 – 6/4/1887 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Herold 1/6/1911 – 12/29/1911 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Detroiter Abend-Post 8/18/1929 – 8/18/1929 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Detroit Independent 1/13/1923 – 1/13/1923 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Detroit Informer 1/13/1900 – 1/13/1900 Newspaper Archives
Detroit South End, The: Wayne State University 5/5/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Michigan Chronicle 8/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Associated Newspapers of Michigan 7/20/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Metro Times 8/4/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Detroit News 1/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Detroit News, The: Web Edition Articles 10/28/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Edwardsburg Edwardsburg Argus 7/20/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fenton Tri-County Times 3/23/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ferndale, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge Woodward Talk 5/19/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Journal 1/3/1898 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Flint Flint Journal 4/3/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Clio Messenger 4/20/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flushing Observer 10/12/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Swartz Creek News 4/20/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Grand Blanc News 6/12/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Burton News 8/14/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Journal, The: Web Edition Articles 10/15/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Davison Flagstaff 6/13/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Township News 3/21/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Fenton Press 7/24/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Frankfort Benzie County Record Patriot 6/24/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fraser Fraser-Clinton Township Chronicle 2/23/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gaylord Gaylord Herald Times 1/1/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gladwin Record & Clarion 10/6/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press 1/11/1893 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Herald 1/1/1898 – 12/31/1900 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Afro-American Gazette 1/1/1991 – 8/7/1995 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press 7/25/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press, The: Web Edition Articles 10/18/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Cadence Advance 10/10/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grosse Pointe Grosse Pointe Times 1/30/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hart Oceana’s Herald-Journal 9/16/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Maple Valley News 7/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Sun & News 7/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Hastings Banner 7/7/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Lakewood News 7/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsdale Hillsdale Daily News 5/25/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Holland Holland Sentinel 7/25/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Holland myZeeland 11/3/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Homer Homer Index 5/2/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hudsonville Grand Valley Advance 11/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ionia Sentinel-Standard 12/17/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot 3/27/1865 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Jackson Jackson Citizen 8/15/1849 – 10/16/1903 Newspaper Archives
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot 1/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jenison On-the-Town 12/1/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jonesville Jonesville Independent 4/8/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette 1/23/1837 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph 11/2/1900 – 11/2/1900 Newspaper Archives
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette 1/1/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Hometown Gazette 3/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette: Web Edition Articles 10/19/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Western Herald 9/14/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kentwood Southeast Advance 9/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lansing Lansing City Pulse 3/3/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lansing New Citizens Press 7/9/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lowell Lowell Ledger 7/6/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ludington Ludington Daily News 2/5/1998 – 9/27/2013 Recent Obituaries
Macomb Macomb Township Chronicle 3/24/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madison Madison-Park News 3/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manistee Manistee News Advocate 3/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marlette Marlette Leader 3/2/2005 – 6/5/2013 Recent Obituaries
Midland Midland Daily News 6/20/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monroe Monroe Evening News 10/31/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mount Pleasant Morning Sun 7/1/2007 – 4/23/2012 Recent Obituaries
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle 1/30/1869 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle 1/3/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle, The: Web Edition Articles 10/17/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Buffalo Harbor Country News 4/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Niles Niles Daily Star 7/23/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ontonagon Lake Superior Miner 10/6/1855 – 9/10/1870 Newspaper Archives
Owosso Argus-Press 2/9/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Petoskey Petoskey News-Review 4/16/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pontiac Oakland Press 8/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Portage Portage Gazette 2/12/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reed City Pioneer – Osceola Edition 6/6/2007 – 3/28/2012 Recent Obituaries
Reed City Herald Review 4/4/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rochester Rochester Post 6/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rockford Northeast Advance 10/15/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Royal Oak Royal Oak Review 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saginaw Saginaw News 5/2/1881 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Saginaw Saginaw News: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saginaw Saginaw News 11/16/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 1/26/1901 – 2/2/1924 Newspaper Archives
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie News 1/7/1888 – 12/29/1900 Newspaper Archives
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie Democrat 5/12/1887 – 12/29/1887 Newspaper Archives
Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 10/5/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Shelby, Utica Shelby-Utica News 2/17/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southfield Southfield Sun 8/4/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southfield Detroit Jewish News 2/23/2006 – 3/12/2009 Recent Obituaries
Sparta, Kent City Northwest Advance 8/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Clair Shores St. Clair Shores Sentinel 1/23/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. James Northern Islander 12/12/1850 – 6/19/1856 Newspaper Archives
St. James Daily Northern Islander 5/5/1856 – 6/20/1856 Newspaper Archives
St. Joseph Herald-Palladium 4/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
State-Wide County mlive.com: Blogs 8/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sterling Heights Sterling Heights Sentry 2/5/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sturgis Sturgis Journal 10/5/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Temperance Bedford Now 8/3/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Traverse City Traverse City Record-Eagle 10/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Traverse City Grand Traverse Herald 2/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Troy Troy Times 6/4/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vassar Vassar Pioneer Times 3/9/2005 – 3/16/2011 Recent Obituaries
Vicksburg Commercial-Express 1/22/2011 – 10/29/2011 Recent Obituaries
Warren Warren Weekly 5/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal 3/2/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider 9/4/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Farmington Press 6/25/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren C&G Newspapers Web Exclusive Articles 1/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Advertiser Times 8/4/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wayland Penasee Globe 12/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
West Bloomfield West Bloomfield Beacon 2/22/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whitehall White Lake Beacon 4/18/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wyoming Southwest Advance 12/16/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ypsilanti Ypsilanti Commercial 3/11/1864 – 8/25/1898 Newspaper Archives
Ypsilanti Eastern Echo: Eastern Michigan University 11/7/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries

*Date Ranges may have selected coverage unavailable.

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 Michigan newspaper links will be live.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Elizabeth Blackwell: First Woman Doctor in the U.S.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), an important figure in both the history of medicine and the women’s rights movement, achieved a historic triumph on 23 January 1849 when she was awarded her Medical Degree by Geneva Medical College in New York. With that distinction she became the first woman doctor in U.S. history. She would go on to practice medicine, open the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, establish women’s medical schools in both England and the U.S., and write about the rights of women to be educated and to enter the medical profession.

photo of Elizabeth Blackwell

Photo: Elizabeth Blackwell. Credit: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health; Wikimedia Commons.

A native of England from a strong Quaker family, Blackwell’s family immigrated to America in 1832 when she was 11. She later pursued her interest in medicine by reading extensively in several doctors’ libraries, but none of the leading medical colleges were willing to accept a female applicant. As she proved throughout her life, however, Blackwell’s perseverance was as strong as her intellect.

There is a story that the only reason she got into Geneva Medical College was because the all-male student body voted to accept her application believing it was a hoax. Whether that is true or not, there is no doubt that once Blackwell arrived she worked hard and did well, graduating first in her class in 1849.

portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell, by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski, 1905

Portrait: Elizabeth Blackwell, by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski, 1905. Credit: Upstate Medical University, New York, Library; Wikimedia Commons.

She overcame the initial reluctance of her classmates and teachers in college—but American society in 1849 posed additional challenges for the new graduate to face, as the following newspaper articles show. While some of these articles are supportive, others reflect the public’s resistance to the thought of a woman doctor—an obstacle Blackwell would go on to conquer in her long life and career. She died back in England in 1910 at the age of 89.

photo of Elizabeth Blackwell’s headstone, St. Munn’s Parish Church, Kilmun, Scotland

Photo: Elizabeth Blackwell’s headstone, St. Munn’s Parish Church, Kilmun, Scotland. Credit: NewTestLeper79; Wikimedia Commons.

This flippant notice was published by a Connecticut newspaper.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, New London Daily Chronicle newspaper article 1 February 1849

New London Daily Chronicle (New London, Connecticut), 1 February 1849, page 2

Enter Last Name

Another Connecticut paper was content to announce Blackwell’s news without resorting to sarcasm.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, New London Democrat newspaper article 3 February 1849

New London Democrat (New London, Connecticut), 3 February 1849, page 2

The New York Star published an editorial saying of women in the medical profession: “Entrust them to be good nurses and familiar with the diseases of females, but beyond that we fear the consequences.” The Albany Express reprinted that editorial, and its article in turn was reprinted by the Richmond Whig.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, Richmond Whig newspaper article 9 February 1849

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 9 February 1849, page 2

Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave, noted abolitionist, and supporter of women’s rights, printed an editorial supportive of Blackwell in his own newspaper.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, Frederick Douglass’ Paper newspaper article 20 April 1849

Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York), 20 April 1849, page 3

This editorial says in part:

Miss Blackwell is remarkable in that she has succeeded in getting a diploma in spite of opposition from many of the influential Galens [Galen of Pergamon was a Greek physician in the Roman empire – ed.] in this country. There must be a large proportion of the right metal in her composition, or she would never have dared to make the attempt, in opposition to sneers and jeers of the ignorant and self-conceited, about the “sphere,” the “proprieties,” the “decencies,” and all that sort of fudge. Miss Blackwell thinks (and she is right) that whatever a [man] can do, that she may do. If she can think, why should she not think? If she has a mind capable of grasping the most abstruse science, what good reason can be urged against her studying that science.

Enter Last Name

The following editorial is an interesting one. It begins with such premises as “the delicacy and shrinking sensibility that is the peculiar attribute of women” and that the “retirement and quietude of the family circle” are “more agreeable to the female disposition.” Yet it goes on to concede there is a need for women doctors (albeit, in the writer’s narrow view, only to serve other women) and concludes by thanking Elizabeth Blackwell for setting “an example for others to follow” and calls for the establishment of “female Medical Schools.” This editorial was published by the Cincinnati Enquirer and reprinted by the Daily Ohio Statesman.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, Daily Ohio Statesman newspaper article 25 April 1849

Daily Ohio Statesman (Columbus, Ohio), 25 April 1849, page 2

This editorial says in part:

Yet, for all that, it must be confessed, that in a sick chamber [a woman] is a “ministering angel”; and that there are diseases peculiar to females that should be treated by women and women alone. The whole branch of Obstetrics should be left entirely to female practitioners. It is repugnant to our notions of propriety, that any other than female doctors should be engaged in that branch. There are other cases, too, which female delicacy painfully shrinks from in consulting a male doctor about. A female doctor would of course direct her studies particularly, and confine her practice altogether to the diseases and cases that are peculiar to her sex. We may be alone in these notions, yet they are sincerely entertained and have been by us for a long time.

One male doctor who offered his support was a Dr. Bailey, who wrote an article about Elizabeth Blackwell for the National Era newspaper in which he praised her character, hard work and intelligence. His article was reprinted in dozens of newspapers and contributed greatly to the ongoing discussion of this new phenomenon of a woman doctor.

article about Elizabeth Blackwell, National Era newspaper article 5 April 1849

National Era (Washington, D.C.), 5 April 1849, page 53

Dr. Bailey concluded his article this way:

The conclusion of the whole matter, I think, is just this: the subject is no longer a question, but a fact. Miss B. is a worker. Just so far as people are workers, they are omnipotent, every one of them; they need very little help, and cannot be much hindered by anybody. She is one of those who cannot be hedged up, or turned aside, or defeated. She will not stop to complain or wrangle about proprieties with people that never do anything, either right or wrong, and she won’t fret. She is a woman, not of words, but of deeds; and those who only want to talk about it, may as well give it up. Withal, her purpose is higher pitched, her aim is broader, her idea deeper, than appears to those who look only at surfaces, and worry themselves with what they call proprieties and practicabilities.

Related Articles about Women Pioneers:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Revolutionary War Soldier Andrew Wallace – Dead at 105

In 1772 at the age of 42, Andrew Wallace shipped off for North America from Scotland – and just a few years later he was fighting in the American Revolutionary War for his new country.

obituary for Andrew Wallace, Elyria Republican newspaper article 19 February 1835

Elyria Republican (Elyria, Ohio), 19 February 1835, page 1

According to this old soldier’s obituary, Andrew “was engaged in some of the most memorable battles of the Revolutionary War,” and fought honorably. To the end of his life, he was honored by all for his military service. His most heroic moment on the battlefield came when General Marquis de Lafayette “was wounded at the battle of Brandywine [and] Wallace assisted in rescuing him from his perilous situation, and carried him off the field of battle to a friend’s house nearly two miles distant.” By the war’s close, Wallace was a decorated and honored sergeant.

Painting: “Nation Makers” by Howard Pyle, depicting a scene from the Battle of Brandywine

Painting: “Nation Makers” by Howard Pyle, depicting a scene from the Battle of Brandywine. Source: Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; Wikimedia.

Wallace lived to be 105. A few weeks before his death, the Peale Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, hosted Andrew as a living exhibit meant to be the “connecting link between the olden and modern age.”

Andrew Wallace, at Peale's Museum, Richmond Whig newspaper article 2 December 1834

Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia), 2 December 1834, page 1

Wait – this is interesting.
The article states that Andrew “fought at the battle of Culloden…”
Battle of Culloden? That was in Scotland in 1746 when the British were putting down Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

Enter Last Name

Thousands attended Wallace’s funeral at the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, where he was buried. The Evening Post reported that even though he “lived and died in the Catholic faith…on his death-bed he asked to be buried with the honors of a mason and a soldier.” His request was honored and although “the weather was wet and stormy…there was an exceedingly brilliant display of military, the masonic fraternity, citizens and others.” The Church extended the extraordinary honor of having him buried in the same tomb as the revered Bishop John Connolly (1750-1825), the Second Bishop of New York. Andrew Wallace was beloved by many and had a great love for the country that took him in so many years prior.

Funeral of Andrew Wallace, Evening Post newspaper article 26 January 1835

Evening Post (New York, New York), 26 January 1835, page 2

Our veterans, old and new, have rendered us such great service and should be remembered every day. GenealogyBanks’ archive of over 1.7 billion historical documents holds the untold stories of your veteran ancestors; sign up today and discover them.

Genealogy Tip: Quite often, a person’s death is reported by many different newspapers in multiple states. Be sure to make a wide search for the obituaries of your ancestors. Do not limit your search to just the newspapers published in their home town.

Related Revolutionary War articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Wedding Belles! How to Find Your Ancestors’ Marriage Records

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

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

photo of a bride in her wedding dress

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

Newspapers Provide Shower & Wedding Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancestor Wedding Photographs

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

Enter Last Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

wedding photos, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 9 August 1936

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

Search Tips for Ancestor Wedding Information in Old Newspapers

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

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

  • After exhausting these two, try other search categories. Occasionally you’ll find a honeymoon mentioned in the Passenger Lists category, or the unfortunate divorce filing in the Legal, Probate & Court category. Any of these can help with finding an elusive date of marriage.
  • Don’t forget to broaden date ranges when you do your newspaper searches. Engagement notices can appear in newspapers many years prior to a wedding. Although local wedding notices are usually printed not long after a wedding, out-of-town papers may report the wedding after a long delay. Even honeymoon stop-overs are reported when the happy couple visits relatives.
Enter Last Name

  • Research wedding legal requirements. An often overlooked query are banns, which had to be published prior to a wedding. This was done so that people could report concerns as to why a couple should not be married. The amusing anecdote in the following newspaper article showcases the process. In this instance, the groom had written to the church sexton with a request to publish the banns. Trying to be congenial, he concluded his letter: “So no more from your well wisher and Mary Williams.” This sexton unfortunately interpreted the man’s name as “William Wisher,” which was used in the published banns. Imagine the couple’s disappointment when they learned their wedding had to be postponed until after the corrected banns had been published!
article about wedding banns, Biloxi Herald newspaper article 16 December 1893

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

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

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

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

Related Marriage & Divorce Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Your Wife – She Just Might Save Your Life

Marriages create life. They connect family trees and create orchards of ancestors.

And sometimes your wife pulls you out of a snowbank.

Saved by His Wife: Decker Was Caught in the Big Snowstorm, Idaho Daily Statesman newspaper article 18 February 1898

Idaho Daily Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 February 1898, page 2

That was the case for Abram Decker, 35, of Sussex County, New Jersey, in 1898.

The Idaho Daily Statesman reports that Decker went to town late one night for groceries in bad weather, and didn’t return. Because they lived far from Newton, what should have been a simple trip for groceries became dangerous due to the distance and the freezing weather.

Patient but worried, his wife waited until early the next morning to go out and search for him; she feared the worst as she fought her way “through snow drifts in some places 15 feet deep.” The Statesman reports that when she found a single foot sticking out of the snow, Abram’s wife identified her frozen husband and saved his life by building a large fire to warm him and bring neighbors to their aid. Decker had collapsed from exhaustion, overtaken by the distance and weather. Thankfully his loving wife saved him from certain doom.

Enter Last Name

Genealogy is not just the births, marriages, and deaths; it’s the in-between that truly connects us to our ancestors. Stories like Abram Decker’s brave wife often fail to be passed down in the family – but they really are memorable and should be preserved.

GenealogyBank helps preserve the color and details that fill in our ancestors’ lives. Family stories like this and many others in our archive are waiting to be found. Sign up for GenealogyBank today and add color to your family tree.

Related Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

The Controversial Birth of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today the United States celebrates the national holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day, continuing to honor the slain civil rights leader nearly 47 years after his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on 4 April 1968. This famous advocate of nonviolence helped raise the civil rights movement to national prominence, forever changing American society. He also was a champion of economic justice for the nation’s poor, and was becoming a leader in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement when he was murdered. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Noble Peace Prize in 1964.

photo of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr., by Dick DeMarsico, 1964. Source: Library of Congress.

To many, it would seem that honoring such a pivotal figure with a national holiday would be an obvious choice for America’s government and public, but that was not the case. There was a great deal of opposition to President Reagan’s signing the bill on 2 November 1983, creating the MLK holiday. Reagan himself had earlier opposed the bill, saying that giving federal employees the day off with pay would be too expensive.

photo of President Ronald Reagan signing the bill to create Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 3 November 1983

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 3 November 1983, page 6

Reagan had threatened to veto the bill but backed off when it was passed by such strong veto-proof votes in Congress (78 to 22 in the Senate and 338 to 90 in the House of Representatives). At a press conference two weeks before signing the bill, Reagan said he would sign it “since they (Congress) seem bent on making it a national holiday.” He then went on during the press conference to speculate that FBI documents might reveal King’s communist sympathies. He also wrote Meldrim Thomson, the governor of New Hampshire, that the public’s high regard for King was “based on an image, not reality.”

Enter Last Name

When the bill first came before the House of Representatives, in 1979, it failed passage by five votes. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) led opposition to the bill in the Senate, questioning King’s qualification for such an honor and grousing about his “Marxist” tendencies. When it came up for the Senate vote, John McCain (R-Arizona) was one of the 22 senators who voted against it. Even after the bill’s passage and Reagan’s signature, various states refused to recognize the MLK holiday, with Arizona and New Hampshire being the last two holdouts. It was not until 2000 that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all 50 states.

President Signs King Holiday Bill, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 3 November 1983

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 3 November 1983, page 19

According to this old news article:

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said after the ceremony, “I think as an optimist and someone with hope. I would hope that now, that this is the beginning of this administration’s real commitment to the basic and fundamental rights of people in our society.”

While criticizing Reagan’s firing of three Civil Rights Commission members who criticized the administration, Kennedy added, “I’d rather look to today and think that perhaps the administration will move on a different path in the future than it has in the past.”

In his remarks, Reagan said, “In America, in the ’50s and ’60s, one of the important crises we faced was racial discrimination. The man whose words and deeds in that crisis stirred our nation to the very depths of its soul was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

editorial about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 20 January 2003

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 20 January 2003, page 4

This editorial reads:

A Uniting Legacy

As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day today—he’d be 74 if he hadn’t been tragically assassinated in 1968—it’s remarkable how his legacy has pulled this nation together.

Despite the controversies and emotions he generated in the turbulent ’60s, just about everyone claims him today. Even people who criticized him on specific issues, such as his support of school busing and opposition to the Vietnam War, have come to see how right he was on racial justice.

Every reasonable person today agrees that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

History, of course, looks beyond the ideological and political battles of the ’60s. King’s legacy is larger than that. By leading America’s greatest civil rights movement in the 20th century, he stands as a symbol of non-violent resistance to overweening government power. That legacy resonates loudly as we enter another contentious era—balancing privacy rights against the need for security against terrorism.

Another measure of the Rev. King’s lasting impact is that, although he’s been dead for nearly 35 years, no other civil rights leader has come along who comes close to filling his shoes—not that several haven’t tried.

Today’s theme for the ninth annual memorial observance honoring the Rev. King at Augusta’s Mt. Calvary Baptist Church nicely sums up the powerful impact the great man had on our country: “Making a World of Difference through Godly Leadership for Racial Harmony, Non-Violence and Human Emancipation.”

More Articles Related to Martin Luther King, Jr.:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Revolutionary Patriot George Shell Fought Two Wars Simultaneously

When Revolutionary War patriot George Shell died in 1818, newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York carried the news – but they each gave him a single-line obituary.

obituary for George Shell, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 25 August 1818

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 25 August 1818, page 3

obituary for George Shell, Salem Gazette newspaper article 18 August 1818

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 18 August 1818, page 3

obituary for George Shell, Columbian newspaper article 15 August 1818

Columbian (New York, New York), 15 August 1818, page 3

However, Revolutionary War veteran George Shell deserved much more; the man fought two wars simultaneously, as detailed in this longer obituary found in another old newspaper.

obituary for George Shell, Albany Gazette newspaper article 15 August 1818

Albany Gazette (Albany, New York), 15 August 1818, page 2

Shell faithfully served in his local Albany, New York, regiment – against the wishes of his father, “who was attached to the royal cause.” So Shell had to fight two wars simultaneously, against the British and his own family. Upon his return to Albany, Shell found himself abandoned and rejected by the family patriarch; George’s father would never forgive him.

However, Shell created a new family for himself in the capital city. He ran a local barber shop and kept the men of Albany looking clean, sharp, and dapper. His funeral drew a significant crowd upon his death, reflecting his service to the town and the esteem his fellow citizens had for him.

Enter Last Name

Thanks to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we learn that no one’s life story is truly one line. George Shell was a respected barber who stood up for his beliefs and fought for his country during its war for independence. While many simply fought the British army, George also bore the cross of a family who abandoned him because they supported the crown. Thanks to the preserved records of the Albany Gazette, we know the depth of this veteran’s sacrifice. We feel enriched and motivated to sacrifice for what we know is right.

Sign up to GenealogyBank today and find your ancestors’ stories!

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Related Revolutionary War Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Researching Newspapers to Trace the Life of Moses G. Wilson

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about a relative on her family tree who – she discovered – was very much involved in the war in Missouri against the Mormons during the 1830s.

Family history can seem deceptively easy when searching for your ancestors in an online newspaper archive. Type a name into a search box and you are rewarded with stories that can help you better understand your family history. Learning about specific individuals is one way to go about newspaper research, but it’s not the only way to research your ancestors.

The Time & the Place

For me, what I love about newspapers is their ability to help me better understand not only my ancestor’s own life – but their time and place. Getting to know what was going on and what they were a part of, often in reports that don’t even mention my ancestor by name, is an essential part of family history research.

a portrait of Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri (1836-1840)

Painting: portrait of Lilburn Boggs, governor of Missouri (1836-1840) – he signed the infamous “Extermination Order” against the Mormons, and was an acquaintance of a relative on my family tree: Moses G. Wilson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Moses G. Wilson & the Mormon War

One of my long-term genealogy research projects involves Moses Greer Wilson (1795-c.1868). I was first introduced to Moses via a research trip I took to Texas 13 years ago. I was researching a branch of my paternal family tree when I “found” Moses, who was the second husband of my 4th great-grandmother, Sophia Bell Lewis Wilson. I’m not descended through that marriage so I didn’t pay too much attention to researching him. After all, the information I really needed involved their son-in-law, my 3rd great-grandfather.

During that Texas trip we found copious amounts of deeds and other materials about Moses Wilson, but due to the high cost of courthouse photocopies (remember this was before smartphones and other mobile devices, back when we thought having a laptop was a big deal) and the fact that he wasn’t our focus, we ended up limiting the info we collected about him.

Fast forward about 10+ years, when I received an email from another genealogy researcher about Moses. She shared his timeline with me that included the years previous to his marrying my ancestor, his second wife. One of the timeline facts involved his living in Jackson County, Missouri, in the 1830s.

For anyone who is Mormon or familiar with Mormon history, the 1830s in Jackson County, Missouri, were tumultuous years for the Mormon Church and its members. As I started Googling about Moses, I realized that he wasn’t simply present during that time – he was one of the ringleaders in the effort to remove the Mormons from Missouri. A brigadier general in the Missouri Militia who participated in the Mormon War, he was also acquainted with Governor Lilburn Boggs – who ultimately signed the infamous Mormon Extermination Order.* I learned that Moses was even accused of beating a Mormon boy.

Enter Last Name

As I started collecting the research and analyzing it, all I could think of was: “this guy was married to my 4th great-grandmother?” She divorced her first husband because of abuse, and somehow this guy didn’t seem much better.

As you can imagine, this long-term project has yielded quite a bit of information due to Moses’ involvement in this historical event involving the Mormons in Missouri. However, it was through newspaper research that I started to gain even more perspective.

The Newspaper Accounts of the Mormon Conflict

One bit of warning here. It’s important to know that, just like today, journalism can be quite tainted. It’s not uncommon for some of these historical newspaper stories to be overdramatized and include falsehoods. However, there’s no denying that what occurred in Missouri during that time was very dramatic, and violent. People died on both sides of the Mormon conflict.

There’s much to tell about this story of the war between the Mormons and the people of Missouri. You can get a sense of the problem from the following two newspaper articles reporting on the tensions between Jackson County Mormons and their neighbors – including Moses G. Wilson.

In June of 1834 this news article was published, describing the fear that those living in Jackson County felt regarding the Mormons. There’s even a mention of a local merchant in Independence who ordered an artillery piece to defend his property. Moses was a merchant in Independence at that time, and it’s possible this could be a reference to him.

article about the conflict with the Mormons in Missouri, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 24 June 1834

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 24 June 1834, page 1

This next newspaper article, published in July of 1834, warns that:

It is a lamentable fact, that this matter is about to involve the whole upper country [of Missouri] in civil war and bloodshed. We cannot (if a compromise is not agreed to before Saturday next) tell how long it will be before we shall have the painful task of recording the awful realities of an exterminating war.

article about the conflict with the Mormons in Missouri, Southern Patriot newspaper article 14 July 1834

Southern Patriot (Charleston, South Carolina), 14 July 1834, page 2

We’re Related to Him?

In conducting historical research we are admonished to not look at the lives of previous generations through our modern-day lens. Quite frankly, in a case like this it’s difficult. But it is important to keep in mind that Moses probably saw these new residents, the Mormons, as a threat. Those early Mormons worried their neighbors by being “peculiar.” They voted in a block and they tended to prefer dealing with their own kind.

Enter Last Name

In this September 1838 article, we see that the conflict with the Mormons was continuing.

article about the Mormon War in Missouri, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 September 1838

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 September 1838, page 2

According to this old news article, a local Missouri sheriff attempted to arrest Lyman Wight, one of the Mormon leaders – but found him protected by a large group of armed Mormon men. Wight is quoted as telling the sheriff:

…that he would not be taken alive – that the law had never protected him, and he owed them no obedience – that the whole State of Missouri could not take him.

The article concludes with the opinion of the editor of the Western Star, a Missouri newspaper:

article about the Mormon War in Missouri, Times-Picayune newspaper article 14 September 1838

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 14 September 1838, page 2

While I may be less than thrilled about Moses’ role in this bitter history, it’s important for me to learn more about his life and the life of his wife, my ancestress. Newspapers provide me that opportunity, and I look forward to more research on this project!

———————–

* Wilson, Moses Greer. The Joseph Smith Papers. http://josephsmithpapers.org/person/moses-greer-wilson. Accessed 5 October 2014.

Articles Related to Mormons:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

Genealogy Case Study: Researching Isaac Fernald

I recently was researching a man from Oregon named Isaac Fernald (1814-1871), and found information related to him in a variety of places online.

Isaac’s Death Reported in the News

I began my search with GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, and I found Fernald’s obituary in his home town newspaper: the Portland Daily Press.

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 1 April 1871

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 1 April 1871, page 3

I noticed this interesting phrase – “as has been before stated” – in his obituary, which is a good clue to look for earlier newspaper references to his death that were likely printed between the date of death (25 February 1871) and the date of the obituary (1 April 1871).

Enter Last Name

Digging deeper in GenealogyBank, I quickly found this reference to his accidental death in Cardenas, Cuba.

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Boston Journal newspaper article 28 February 1871

Boston Journal (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 February 1871, page 2

I also found this report, which adds the detail that Fernald’s fatal accident happened on a “side track of the railroad at Cardenas.”

obituary for Isaac Fernald, Boston Daily Advertiser newspaper article 1 March 1871

Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 March 1871, page 2

In addition, I found this report of his funeral services.

article about the funeral services for Isaac Fernald, Portland Daily Press newspaper article 3 April 1871

Portland Daily Press (Portland, Maine), 3 April 1871, page 3

Each newspaper article reports more of the details.

Why was he in Cuba?
It turns out that he had traveled there on business before.

Ship Passenger Lists

I know that FamilySearch has put the passenger lists for U.S. ports online, so I looked there for reference to Fernald’s travels to Cuba. I found him listed several times. For example, here he is reported returning to the U.S. onboard the steamship Cahawba, returning on 1 April 1860. His occupation is listed as “merchant.”

New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891, showing entry for Isaac Fernald

Source: FamilySearch, New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891

I also know that the Prints & Graphics Division of the Library of Congress has put their massive collection of ship photographs and images online. Checking there, I was able to find this sketch of the Cahawba that was drawn at about the same time that Isaac Fernald had traveled to Cuba.

drawing of the  U.S. steamship "Cahawba"

Illustration: U.S. transport Cahawba. Source: Library of Congress.

Genealogy Tip: After you find your ancestor’s obituary, be sure to keep on digging. There are several types of historical records easily accessible online that contain relevant information about our ancestors. By making the extra research effort you will find additional details of the story of your ancestor’s life.

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

Related Genealogy Research Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank

America’s First Newspaper: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, 1690

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 writes about the short-lived history of the first newspaper published in North America – which was shut down by the authorities after printing its first and only issue.

Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick was the first newspaper published in the Americas. Previously a few broadsides had been published in the colonies, but these were single-sided sheets of news or announcements meant to be posted in a public place. Publick Occurrences was the first real newspaper, consisting of three pages of news intended for individual consumption. This newspaper is a fascinating study of early North American life and times.

front page for the newspaper Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690

Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

The History of the First American Newspaper

The editor, Benjamin Harris, had published a newspaper and other material in London, but ran afoul of the authorities and was twice jailed for his “seditious” pamphlets – so in 1686 he immigrated to the American colonies. He enlisted the help of a local printer, Richard Pierce, and together they produced their four-page newspaper on 25 September 1690 in Boston. It was about six inches by ten inches and the last page was blank.

Enter Last Name

Harris and Pierce used the first few column inches of the new paper to explain their reasons and hopes for creating it. They intended to provide “an Account of such considerable things as have arrived unto our Notice” for three reasons:

    • “That Memorable Occurrences of Divine Providence may not be neglected or forgotten, as they too often are.”
    • “That people every where may better understand the Circumstances of Publique Affairs, both abroad and at home; which may not only direct their Thoughts at all times, but at some times also to assist their Businesses and Negotiations.”
    • “That some thing may be done towards the Curing, or at least the Charming of that Spirit of Lying, which prevails amongst us, wherefore nothing shall be entered, but what we have reason to believe is true, repairing to the best fountains for our Information.”
article explaining why the first newspaper in North America was being printed, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick newspaper article 25 September 1690

Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

A Day of Thanksgiving

The first article was about the “Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth” having “newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving to God for his Mercy in supplying their extream and pinching Necessities.” It went on to opine that: “Their Example may be worth Mentioning.”

This was an excellent beginning article for the new paper, a nice human interest story which caused no controversy. It will be remembered that in 1690, there was no independent nation and no national Thanksgiving holiday in North America. However, the colonists and their Christianized Indian allies observed periodic days of thanksgiving.

article about Indians celebrating Thanksgiving, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick newspaper article 25 September 1690

Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

Suicide after Wife’s Death

For the genealogist, this paper is full of stories of importance. For example, one front page article relates the story of an older resident of Watertown who committed suicide after the death of his wife. This man “had long Enjoyed the reputation of a Sober and a Pious Man; having newly buried his Wife, The Devil took advantage of the Melancholy which he thereupon fell into.” Despite the efforts of his friends to protect him, he slipped away one night and hanged himself. His name was not mentioned, but it might be possible to discover his identity using the clues given in the old newspaper article.

Small Pox Ravages Boston

There are stories about illness, including one about small-pox that had recently ravaged Boston:

The Small-pox which has been raging in Boston, after a manner very Extraordinary, is now very much abated. It is thought that far more have been sick of it than were visited with it, when it raged so much twelve years ago, nevertheless it has not been so Mortal. The number of them that have dyed in Boston by this last Visitation is about three hundred and twenty, which is not perhaps half so many as fell by the former [visitation].

Again, no names are mentioned, but it may provide clues on ancestors affected by this calamity.

Inferno Engulfs Town

Another story tells of a fire that took the life of one boy and destroyed five or six homes and a rare and valuable printing press: “…[one] of those few that we know of in America, was lost; a loss not presently to be repaired.”

Enter Last Name

Children Taken as Indian Captives

Another story is about two Chelmsford children, ages 11 and 9, kidnapped by the hostile Indians. While these stories don’t mention the individuals by name, they can provide clues for identifying individuals you may already know something about from other records. In addition, these stories can provide an incredible look into the life and times of the residents of Boston. What were they most concerned with? What was life like? How did they adapt to their circumstances? And so on.

French vs. English

There is another story about an English ship that put in at the wrong port and was attacked by the French and their Indian allies, with one member of the crew escaping. Although the French and Indian War did not officially begin until 1754, we see in these 1690 reports that clashes between the French and English – and their respective Indian allies – were common.

In fact, the majority of this inaugural (and, as it turned out, only) issue of Publick Occurrences’s articles address the ongoing fighting. They graphically describe the various conflicts with a remarkable nonpartisanship, with blame assigned to both the French and English, as well as their Indian allies. As a British citizen, Harris could justify a printed attack on the French and their Indian allies. He reports how the French Canadians even annihilated some loyal Indian allies after a misunderstanding.  He grows bold in reprinting a letter which gave news from the Caribbean and accuses the French king of an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law.

Somewhat surprisingly, Harris also uses his newspaper to criticize the English – both for their own actions, and for not better restraining their Indian allies. He reports how some of the British forces’ Indian allies “returned with some Success, having slain several of the French, and brought home several Prisoners, whom they used in a manner too barbarous for any English to approve.” Harris also reports a story about the English Captain Mason, who “cut the faces, and ript the bellies of two Indians, and threw a third Over board in the sight of the French.”

article about a fight between French and British forces, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick newspaper article 25 September 1690

Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 3

Only One Issue Ever Printed

Although Harris and Pierce stated that their intent was to publish their new newspaper once a month “or if any Glut of Occurrences happen, oftener,” the inaugural issue of Publick Occurrences was also the last. The British authorities discovered the paper and moved quickly to suppress it.

And so the very first newspaper in American ran right into issues of press censorship and freedom of speech. Just four days after Publick Occurrences was published, the “Governour & Council” issued an order in which they “do hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet [i.e., newspaper], and Order that the same be Suppress’d and called in.” The official reasoning was that Harris had not applied for and obtained the proper licenses. However, the authorities were most likely unhappy with Harris’s opinions and criticisms, as mild as they may seem to the modern reader.

While not mentioning very many names, this first North American newspaper is fascinating to read. It provides a colorful description of what Bostonians and people in the original colonies were experiencing, what they cared about, and what trials they faced. It gives tantalizing clues about the early colonists and their lives, and is a good resource for anyone researching their ancestors during the early colonial period in American history.

Publick Occurrences is just one of the rare early colonial newspapers available in GenealogyBank’s  Historical Newspaper Archives, which houses more than 6,500 newspaper titles online. GenealogyBank can help you learn more about your ancestors in early America; see what’s inside the archives on your ancestors’ stories. Start your 30-day trial now!

Related Colonial America Articles:

ad for gift subscriptions to GenealogyBank