For the 12 Days of Christmas: 12 Types of Newspaper Articles for Genealogy Research, Part II

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena gives examples of six types of newspaper articles that can help with your family history research.

Still looking for your ancestor in the newspaper? Or maybe you’re looking to find more mentions of your family? In yesterday’s Part I of our “12 Days of Christmas” blog article, we looked at six types of newspaper articles that give us some of the basic facts of a person’s life: birth, marriage, death, etc.

Now let’s look at six more types of newspaper articles that fill in more of the details of what your ancestors’ lives were like. All of these examples were found in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

7) Family Reunion Articles

I went to a family reunion last spring and that event was a great meeting between cousins who were new to each other – and an opportunity to trade photos and stories. Unfortunately, the local newspaper wasn’t there documenting that time we spent together, nor did anyone think of providing that story to them. However, it is not unusual to find family reunion activities documented in old newspapers. Large family reunions or milestone events that were the catalyst for a reunion (think of an elder family member’s birthday, 50th wedding anniversary, etc.) were newsworthy. Articles about these events in the local newspaper often include names, dates, history and memories.

For example, this Jackson family reunion article from a 1903 Texas newspaper tells the migration story of the family that ended in Dallas. The article gives the names, and the birth year and month, of each of the five Jackson family members pictured. It also gives a tremendous amount of family history, beginning with the family patriarch, John Jackson, his birth in England in 1806, and the perilous journey the family took in 1848 to come to Texas. Note that this article points out “His sons and daughters married, and had children, and these children did the same thing” – valuable clues to other records to search for in tracing this family’s history.

article about the Jackson family reunion, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 3 September 1903

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 3 September 1903, page 6

8) School Days Articles

All types of newspaper articles document the school days of children and young adults. You might find articles about school sports competitions or awards won for various events. Lists of graduates are also popular newspaper fodder. As you consider school-based newspaper articles, remember to not make assumptions about your ancestor’s school career (such as presuming they never attended school), and don’t assume that their school days were like your own (that assumption can result in missing articles unique to their time period). Lastly, remember that newspaper articles may focus on students, teachers, staff, and the school board.

This 1897 New York newspaper article about the graduates of Miss Hunter’s Training School gives the names of women who graduated from this Kindergarten teacher training school. The graduates’ and post-graduates’ names and city of residence are listed.

article about women graduates from a training school, New York Tribune newspaper article 8 June 1897

New York Tribune (New York, New York), 8 June 1897, page 5

Obviously your ancestor’s name mentioned in a graduate list or attached to a school activity would be great to find – but don’t forget about photos in the newspaper. The GenealogyBank search engine provides you the ability to narrow your search results by photos and illustrations. By narrowing a search to the phrase “high school football” I found this great photo of the 1901 Baker City High School football team from Oregon. The caption reads “In the group here presented are the husky fellows who make up the Baker City High School football team, together with the coach and manager of the eleven and Professor Churchill, principal of the High School.” Surnames and positions played by the students are listed.

article and photo about the Baker City High School football team, Oregonian newspaper article 2 December 1901

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 December 1901, page 3

9) Legal Notices

We’ve talked about legal notices before on this blog and how important they can be to your genealogy research. Those largely ignored, small dense notices in the back of the newspaper call to attention all kinds of important legal matters, including court actions. These notices, most useful for searching for your mid-19th century ancestors and beyond, are the place to find probate actions. If you’re having problems finding a probate in the courthouse archive where your ancestor lived, take a look at the legal notices in newspapers.

legal notices, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 3 August 1908

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 3 August 1908, page 7

10) Delinquent Tax Notices

This is a list most of us would rather not find ourselves on. But just like modern families, our ancestors faced difficult economic times. Lists of those with delinquent taxes can be found in the newspaper and those mentions include a name, address and even the amount owed. Such articles should be followed up by searching land grants as well as additional newspaper articles having to do with the possible sale of the property for the money owed. A seemingly sudden move to a different address or completely out of an area might be explained by finding your ancestor’s name on such a list.

list of delinquent taxes, Albuquerque Journal newspaper article 2 September 1910

Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico), 2 September 1910, page 3

11) Letters to the Editor

Did your ancestor have a strong opinion about something? Maybe they just wanted to inform the community about an issue or event. There were several ways a person could get their name in the newspaper and writing a letter to the editor was one.

Judging from the various letters to the editor columns I read, some newspapers allowed letter writers to use a symbolic moniker, some provided anonymity by printing only the writer’s initials, while others insisted on the full name and address of the individual. I love this 1915 letter to the editor article that explains to a person who signed their letter “Neutral” why their anonymous letter wasn’t published. As you can see by the editor’s explanation, those wishing to have a letter published had to include their name and address.

letters to the editor, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 30 August 1915

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 30 August 1915, page 8

It’s important to remember to try various ways of searching for your family, including narrowing and widening your ancestry search. If you only narrow your search to a name and place, you may miss mentions of your ancestor in places you would least expect to find them.

For example, this 1925 Letter to the Editor column from a San Diego newspaper is a good example. The letter reminisces about the author’s 1929 trip to San Diego. The writer states that “In my opinion the two grandest sights in the United States are the Grand canyon of Arizona and San Diego bay from Pt. Loma.” Family of Mr. Lawrence J. Callanan of New York might be interested in this trip, which would provide some background to any photos or souvenirs passed down.

letter to the editor from Lawrence Callanan, San Diego Union newspaper article 24 August 1935

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 24 August 1935, page 5

12) Post Office Letters

I have a friend who lets her mail pile up for a week before begrudgingly picking it up. By the time she finally goes to the post office, her box is sometimes filled to capacity and some of the more urgent items have gone unchecked. One day in the future the idea of mail being delivered to our homes will probably be all but a distant memory.

Just like my friend, our ancestors didn’t always pick up their mail. Why? Lots of reasons come to mind, including that the person moved or died. This 1904 Alaska newspaper article with a list of names of people from Juneau who have not picked up their mail explains that after two weeks, the mail will be forwarded to the dead letter office in Washington, D.C. These types of lists found in the newspaper can be great clues for your ancestral timeline.

article about unclaimed letters at the post office, Daily Alaska Dispatch newspaper article 15 March 1904

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau, Alaska), 15 March 1904, page 4

Most of us have heard at one time or another about the “dead letter office.” The Second Continental Congress established the position of inspector of dead letters, who would deal with undeliverable mail. Later, the first dead letter office in Washington, D.C. made its debut in 1825. Postmasters published lists of names in the newspaper of people who had letters waiting to be picked up, with warnings that unclaimed letters would be sent to the dead letter office.*

article about unclaimed letters at the post office, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 21 March 1738

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 21 March 1738, page 2

So where will you find your ancestor in the newspaper? Newspapers are a rich source of information and your ancestor could be mentioned in any type of article. But before you give up on finding that elusive ancestor, search for them in the 12 types of newspaper articles we outlined yesterday and today. Utilize tools provided in the GenealogyBank search engine to narrow and broaden your search. And remember to search on versions of your ancestor’s name, including initials.

Good luck in your search!

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* Dead letter office gave rise to official seals. Linn’s Stamp. http://www.linns.com/en/insights/stamp-collecting-basics/2005/july/dead-letter-office-gave-rise-to-official-seals.html

Related Articles:

How to Research Legal Notices in Newspapers for Genealogy

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how legal notices published in old newspapers are a great genealogy resource, providing a wealth of family history information.

When doing your family history research, have you ever given much thought to those legal notices found at the back of the newspaper? Legal notices in newspapers have an important purpose: they notify the public about government and individual actions so that readers may take action if necessary. The publishing of these public notices dates back to 1789, when Congress “required all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes to be published in at least three publicly available newspapers.”*

According to the genealogical text, The Source, legal notices may include: “land sales for payment of taxes, administration in probate, proving of wills, heirship determination and the settlement of estates, pending divorce proceedings, sales of properties of insolvent estates, and more.”**

Have you looked for your ancestor in these public notices published in newspapers? These legal articles can lead you to additional sources stored in courthouse archives, county government offices, and beyond. Let’s look at a few examples.

Probate & Estate Notices to Creditors

One genealogically rich source of information is the Notice to Creditors for estates being probated.

At the very least these probate notices provide the deceased’s name, such as this example found in an Arizona newspaper following the death of Mary J. Griffin.

This legal notice is a good reminder to not make assumptions about female ancestors. We often assume women in earlier times didn’t leave behind wills, but they may have – and if so, legal notice of that will or testament might have been published in the local newspaper. Legal notices are a wonderful source for researching female ancestors.

a legal notice for Mary Griffin, Tucson Citizen newspaper article 26 July 1915


Tucson Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 26 July 1915, page 5

Legal notices will often include a family member’s name who was administering the estate. This notice to creditors article example from an Idaho newspaper includes the name of the deceased, S. F. Beery, and the name of the executor who was most likely a relative, David Beery.

legal notice for S. F. Beery, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 26 June 1905

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 26 June 1905, page 5

Court Actions & Case Files

Notices of court actions in the newspaper include everything from divorces to individual lawsuits, delinquent tax issues, and foreclosures on property. Consider this example from a Minnesota newspaper that not only notifies the defendants about the court action, it mentions the land that is at the heart of the case.

legal notice for Elizabeth Field, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 January 1910

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 January 1910, page 11

Let’s face it, even our ancestors had money troubles – and that’s nowhere more obvious than in the Notice of Summons for delinquent taxes. This example from a North Carolina newspaper published during the Great Depression is an entire page of delinquent tax notices, and includes the names of married couples as well as individuals.

legal notices, Greensboro Record newspaper article 22 August 1932

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 22 August 1932, page 12

Divorces can be found in various parts of the newspaper (see Divorce Records in Newspapers: Genealogy Research Tips) including the legal notices section. In this example from an Oregon newspaper, Loretta Gates believed her husband John W. Gates to be dead, so a notice was published in the newspaper giving him the opportunity, if alive, to respond to her divorce petition. It states:

SIR: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that a petition has been presented to this court by Loretta Gates for dissolution of your marriage on the ground that you absented yourself for five successive years, last past, without being known to her to be living, and she believes you to be dead, and that pursuant to an order of said court, entered the 22d day of December 1949, a hearing will be had upon said petition at Supreme Court…

legal notice for Loretta Gates, Oregonian newspaper article 12 February 1950

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 12 February 1950, page 39

This notice ran in the newspaper for at least three consecutive Sundays, providing ample time for a living Mr. Gates to read it.

Enter Last Name

Bids

Government notices in the newspaper may provide you a better understanding of an event, or even an occupation, that affected your ancestor. In this legal notice from a Mississippi newspaper, the city of Gulfport in 1936 was taking bids from those who wanted to feed prisoners.

legal notice, Daily Herald newspaper article 31 December 1936

Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 31 December 1936, page 3

It’s important to remember that newspaper articles may report on activities that impacted your ancestor’s life, but they won’t be specifically named. Search the census and city directories for your ancestor’s job and then turn to the newspaper to learn more about how they may have acquired that job.

And Then This…

I have to admit that when I think of legal notices, I think of a certain type of notice such as those I’ve highlighted above. But you never know what you might find, including this one from a San Quentin prisoner published in a California newspaper.

legal notice for Charles Cupp, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 9 January 1927

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 9 January 1927, page 73

This pardon notice for Charles S. Cupp surprised me – though I guess it shouldn’t have. His seeking a pardon would have been of interest to the community, and its publishing provided the community – and the victim of his crime – with notification so that they could then respond. Cupp had been convicted of shooting at a police officer.

Did You Know?

GenealogyBank has a special category for legal records, probate records and court case files. Explore legal records now >>

Genealogy Tip: Don’t limit your newspaper search to just one type of article. Make sure to examine all kinds of newspaper articles, including legal notices that mention your ancestor by name or involved activities that impacted their lives.

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* “Public notice and the role Oregon newspapers play.” Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. Accessed 3 May 2015. http://www.gallatinpublicaffairs.com/services/media/pdf/Public_Notice_Whitepaper.pdf.
** “Newspapers” by Loretto Dennis Szucs, FUGA, and James L. Hansen, FASG in Szucs, Loretto D, and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

Related Legal Notices Articles:

Genealogy Research with Legal Notices in Newspapers

Newspapers have long been the way that official notices of court actions, legal matters and other announcements have been communicated to the public, and researching these legal notices can help you learn more about your ancestors and fill in details on your family tree.

This blog post highlights some of the past articles we’ve published on the GenealogyBank Blog about researching legal notices in newspapers. Just click on the title of any article that interests you to read the full blog post.

divorce notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 22 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 May 1914, page 16

screenshot of a GenealogyBank search results page showing sample “Legal/Probate/Court” records

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample “Legal/Probate/Court” records

name change notice for Max Kaplansky, Daily People newspaper article 25 September 1901

Daily People (New York, New York), 25 September 1901, page 1

How to Find Your Ancestor’s Divorce Records in the Newspaper

divorce notices, St. Louis Republic newspaper article 25 June 1889

St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, Missouri), 25 June 1889, page 12

land sale notice by Artemas Bryant, Barre Gazette newspaper article 13 February 1857

Barre Gazette (Barre, Massachusetts), 13 February 1857, page 3

article about Latin terms, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977

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

Researching Legal, Probate & Court Records Found in Newspapers

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena shows how those small-print legal notices found in the back of newspapers—often ignored by most readers—can provide important clues to help you break through your genealogy brick walls.

When reading your daily newspapers, are there certain sections you skip over? For many people there is the tendency to skip over the legal notices, typically found in the back of the paper, densely squeezed together and printed in a too-small font. As readers we may think: “why should I read the legal notices?” But as genealogists it would be a mistake to skip over them—they can be a great source of family history information.

Legal notices are notifications placed in the newspaper that alert the community of judicial actions. These can be matters involving estates, divorces, taxes, and land transactions. A 1957 Wisconsin statute states that a legal notice is defined as “…every summons, order, citation, notice of sale, or other notice and every other advertisement of any description required to be published by law or in pursuance of any law or of any order of any court.”* These public legal notices can lead you to records found at the courthouse, a county assessor or recorder’s office, and even additional newspaper articles.

How to Find Legal Notices on GenealogyBank

One way to search for your ancestor in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives is to use the search engine, either the basic or the advanced search, to enter a name, perhaps a place, and even a date or date range. But don’t forget that GenealogyBank allows you to narrow your search results further by article type. Using the list found on the left hand side of your results page, choose the  Legal, Probate & Court option to search for your ancestor in legal notices.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search results page showing the Legal, Probate and Court records search option

Probate Notices in Newspapers

So what is of genealogical value in these legal notices? Plenty. Consider the notices of probate actions. One of my friends was researching her grandfather who had died and left a will. Problem was, the county courthouse serving the area where he died required payment for a search of the probate index—and then, after she paid, responded by telling her there was no court case. She knew there was a probate case because her father had been the executor of the will. So what do you do when an official entity tells you there isn’t a case? I suggested she turn to newspapers and search in the legal notices section. Sure enough, she was able to find the probate case—and with a copy of that legal notice, went back to the court clerks who were then able to provide her with the file.

probate notices, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper articles 25 January 1908

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

Probate notices in newspapers can provide you names, dates, and information that you can follow up with at the courthouse. In the case of these notices from 1908 in Minnesota, the name of the deceased, the person administering the probate, the judge, and the next court date are listed.

Enter Last Name










Genealogy Tip: Even if your ancestor left no will, there still could have been a probate case. Did they own land, a home, or owe money? Make sure to check for the existence of a probate.

Divorce Notices in the News

I’ve written about newspaper divorce notices on this blog before (see How to Find Your Ancestor’s Divorce Records in the Newspaper). Divorces notices can show up in various newspaper articles, but don’t forget that a notice requiring an appearance in court will be found in the legal notices. In these examples from 1914 Philadelphia, the defendant is told that their spouse has “filed a libel in the Court of Common Pleas…praying a divorce against you.” Those who do not show up on the date provided in this notice are forewarned “you will be liable to have a divorce granted in your absence.” Notice that in these examples, the court date and address of the defendant are listed.

divorce legal notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper articles 22 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 22 May 1914, page 16

Are you new to court research? On GenealogyBank’s Legal, Probate & Court Records search box, there is a link you can click to get court record search tips.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's Legal, Probate and Court records search page showing the Search Tips link

Trustee’s Sale Notices

One of the genealogical benefits of legal notices is that our women ancestors do appear in these postings. Unfortunately, many of these notices are about the more difficult periods of a person’s life, as in this example of listings of Trustee’s Sales. As you can see, both the wife and the husband are listed in these sale notices. These 1891 examples are a good reminder that our ancestors may have been facing difficult financial times, just as many people faced in the more recent housing market collapse. If you find a notice where your ancestor’s home or property is being foreclosed on, you may want to conduct additional research to determine if there was a larger economic collapse that affected their lives. While we are most familiar with the Great Depression of the 1930s, other similar economic crises have happened in U.S. history. For example, two years after these newspaper notices appeared, there was a financial panic in 1893 that included the closing of many banks and high unemployment rates.

Auction Sales by Trustee, Kansas City Times newspaper article 29 January 1891

Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), 29 January 1891, page 9

Legal notices in newspapers help tell the story of our ancestors’ lives. While they are often ignored, these legal notices contain rich information including names, street addresses, and dates with the court that can help us find additional documentation to fill out the details on our family trees.

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*Burke, James J. Wisconsin Statutes, 1957: Embracing All General Statutes in Force at the Close of the General Session of 1957. Racine, 1957, p. 3551.

Related Legal & Court Record Articles:

How to Search Probate Records in GenealogyBank’s Newspaper Archives

State laws required that a legal notice of a probate action be posted in local newspapers. This was the state’s method to get the word out to all interested parties that an estate was going to be disbursed to the heirs and creditors.

These legal requirements varied across the country, but we can reasonably expect that the newspapers where our ancestors lived carried these probate notices.

Probate records alert you to the names of the deceased, the executor of the will and—importantly—the court where the estate was probated. With this information, you can then contact that court to obtain a copy of the complete probate file for further genealogy research. Remember that an estate might not be probated for months or even a year after a person died, so you will want to search for probate and estate records using a wide span of years.

Search for newspaper probate notices by using GenealogyBank’s new “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool.

To get to this probate records search tool, begin by clicking on the “Search Newspaper Archives” link on GenealogyBank’s homepage.

GenealogyBank homepage with "Search Newspaper Archives" link

GenealogyBank homepage with “Search Newspaper Archives” link

Then look at the index on the left-hand side of the next page and click on the “Legal, Probate & Court” link.

GenealogyBank page with "Legal, Probate & Court" link

GenealogyBank page with “Legal, Probate & Court” link

This action brings you to the “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search box.

GenealogyBank's "Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News" search form

GenealogyBank’s “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search form

Simply search the newspapers for the state in question for your ancestor’s probate records. I would suggest limiting the initial probate notice search to only a surname and a year. Depending on the number of search result hits that are returned, you could add additional information to narrow down your search for your deceased relative’s probate and estate records.

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample "Legal/Probate/Court" records

GenealogyBank search results page showing sample “Legal/Probate/Court” records

Use this special “Probate Court Records, Case Files & Legal News” search tool to save time and target your searches.