Newspapers: A Brief History, the 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott explains why newspapers’ use of the “5 Ws” is tremendously helpful to genealogists.

A Brief History of Newspapers

Thank goodness the world of news reporting switched from hand-written Avvisi—which were some of the first hand-written newsletters that appeared in Europe—to the first printed newspaper, or Bao zhi—which was printed in Beijing, China, in about 1582 during the late Ming Dynasty. Ever since their mass production began, newspapers have been a staple of our lives and they are certainly one of the most valuable resources we as genealogists can access, learn from, and utilize in our genealogy research.

The Five Ws of Newspaper Journalism

However, the real reason newspapers are such wonderful and useful resources in genealogy, I believe, goes all the way back to Hermagoras of Temnos, a 1st century BC Greek rhetorician. According to my limited research, this fellow is credited with being the first person to propose the importance of what has now become the mantra of good newspaper reporting: the “5 Ws.” So let me here and now say: thank you, Hermagoras of Temnos, on a job well done!

Still taught today, the 5 Ws of “who, what, where, when and why” remain the gold standard of good journalism.

The more one thinks about it, the more obvious it may become that this mantra fits better than O. J.’s glove when it comes to our family history work. It is also why my family tree is chockablock with information and articles from GenalogyBank.com.

My Great Grandfather Was Robbed!

One particularly interesting example of the 5 Ws at work is the article I found on my great grandfather from an 1898 newspaper.

Vicha Held Up, Plain Dealer newspaper article, 24 November 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 November 1898, page 3

As you can see, the very first sentence offers me all 5 Ws by telling me my great grandfather (even giving me his employment for good measure) was robbed for a loss of $1.35 on Forest Street on Tuesday night. There you have all five: Who (Joseph Vicha), What (robbery), Where (on Forest Street), When (Tuesday night) and Why (for $1.35). I love that this old newspaper article has lots of great genealogical information and a nifty snapshot of a day in the life, albeit a bad one, of my great grandfather.

My Cousin’s Home Was Attacked during a Strike

Another example of the 5 Ws being clearly presented, although not in the first sentence of the article, is one I discovered about my cousin in a 1911 newspaper.

Woman Declares Life Is in Danger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 September 1911

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1911, page 4

This historical newspaper article describes how my cousin Anna Tussel’s home was attacked during the confrontations over a garment workers’ strike (her house was sprayed with tar, “blackening the windows and doors”). This article provides another snapshot of an ancestor’s life and gives information on her home address at the time, and more.

The use of the 5 Ws can also be a huge help in ruling out similarly-named folks, through the reporting of addresses, middle initials, employment, and more.

My Sister’s Wedding

Plus every so often you can also get a little treat closer to home, as I did when I was working on a branch of my in-laws and a newer article caught my eye. This article from a 1967 newspaper treated me to a nice account of my own sister’s wedding. Given that my brother-in-law and his parents have now all passed away, it was especially nice to get all the information contained in this old newspaper article.

Karen Phillips Married to David Berry, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 June 1967

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 June 1967, page 117

So dig into those newspaper archives and when you find your next great article join me in thanking Hermagoras of Temnos!

Tracing My Unknown Ancestor in the Martin Family

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott discovers the name of an ancestor he never knew about—and turns to old newspapers to fill in this blank on his family tree.

Recently my sister phoned me to ask some questions about certain members of our family who had passed through Ellis Island. As I was talking to her, I pulled up some of the documents I had for our grandparents and started reciting facts and information about them. As I was wrapping up our phone call a bell was ringing in my mind telling me something wasn’t quite right.

I looked at all the information again and there it was: on her Ellis Island documentation, my future grandmother had listed her brother-in-law, Thomas Martin of Cleveland, Ohio, as her contact in the U.S. Since I knew that her sister, my Great Aunt Rose, had married a Martin, finding this contact listing was not a surprise. As I looked at our family tree, however, I could see that the Martin her sister had married was named William, not Thomas.

photo of Rose Cottle Martin Jones and Ina Cottle Phillips

The author’s Great Aunt Rose Cottle Martin Jones on the left, with her sister (and the author’s grandmother) Ina Cottle Phillips on the right. Photo from the author’s collection.

So who was the Thomas Martin my grandmother had listed at Ellis Island?

I needed to look into this! I went to GenealogyBank.com first to see what I might discover. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” This family history search led me down a very long—but delightful—path.

First I discovered the old obituary for William Martin, my Great Aunt Rose’s husband. It was quite a genealogical find.

William Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 October 1933

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 October 1933, page 23

In just its seven short lines, it provided my great aunt’s name complete with her maiden name. It also gave the names of their two daughters (Edna and Dorothy) and William’s three siblings (Grace, Charlotte and Jessie). The obituary listed the street address where William and Mary Rose lived. I was about ready to move on, when that last item caught my attention.

I went back to the Ellis Island passenger manifest that I had been reading to my sister, and noted that the street address listed for Thomas Martin happened to be the very same as the street address given in William’s obituary. Nice way to close that circle! The link was looking quite strong, but still a puzzle remained: there was no mention of a brother named Thomas in the obituary.

Next, I started a search on the three siblings listed in William’s obituary. First up, I searched on Grace Bowhay. What I found was mention of her name in her sister Charlotte’s obituary.

Charlotte Martin obituary, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 September 1944

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 September 1944, page 78

This old obituary not only made reference to Grace Bowhay and siblings Jessie and William, but also listed the so-far elusive Thomas (deceased). Oh, and don’t let me forget to tell you that it also included three additional siblings: three sisters (complete with married names) all still residing in England!

With Thomas Martin being such a common name combination, I decided to make a quick check of the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office website for Thomas Martin. Sure enough, not only did I get a “hit,” but it was for the purchase of a home on—again—the same street as all the other notices. Plus, the property record informed me that this Thomas had a wife, Mary.

While I am still on the trail of Thomas Martin and have more searching to do, I am more convinced than ever that I am on the right path! And I am bound and determined to find this ancestor that I never knew about and add more information to our family tree!

New Newspaper Content Added Every Day! Here Is the Latest List

With an annual subscription to GenealogyBank you get a gift every day of the year: more content to research your family history, because every day we put more newspapers online.

illustration of a man reading a newspaper; Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, art by Norman Rockwell

Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-696

Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, art by Norman Rockwell.

Read the newspapers your ancestors read. Find the stories of your family in GenealogyBank.

We’re growing our online newspaper archives every day so that you can discover more about your genealogy.

Here is a peek at the newspaper content we added today.

State City Newspaper

Issues

Pages

Start

End

DC Washington Evening Star

        237

      8,225

8/17/1919

10/31/1921

DC Washington Daily Union

        155

          627

7/1/1852

12/31/1852

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register

    2,315

      9,438

1/2/1869

6/30/1887

Louisiana Baton Rouge Advocate

          68

      1,572

10/1/1943

5/15/1958

Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate

        102

      4,601

3/3/1933

9/15/1969

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald

        207

      3,232

12/10/1948

9/19/1972

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller

        449

    17,934

7/1/1946

8/7/1951

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Argus

        297

      2,062

11/17/1898

12/31/1906

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times

             2

            16

10/5/1907

4/7/1908

Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan Argus

        521

      3,984

10/31/1879

12/20/1907

Michigan Ypsilanti Ypsilanti Commercial

        963

      5,552

3/11/1864

8/18/1898

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News

    1,134

    47,028

4/14/1945

3/31/1975

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record

        296

    10,894

4/20/1955

10/25/1971

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post

        121

      1,020

1/7/1886

6/4/1920

South Carolina Charleston Evening Post

             7

            88

11/13/1916

8/29/1921

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch

        697

    41,367

2/1/1948

12/31/1986

3,000+ U.S. Newspaper Archives Just Got More Content!

It is another busy year for the GenealogyBank team as we continue to rapidly grow our online archives to offer you the best U.S. newspaper coverage for your genealogy research. We are pleased to announce that we recently added more back issues and articles to more than 3,000 newspapers from all 50 U.S. states! Now you can enjoy even more content to investigate your family history with our expanded newspaper coverage across the entire United States.

It would be too lengthy to list them all, but here is a partial list of the new newspapers we added, and the expansion to some of our existing titles: over 60 newspapers from 11 states. This gives you just a taste of the rapid growth of GenealogyBank’s online U.S. newspaper archives!

In fact, we are adding more newspapers right now, as we do each and every day to help you do better genealogy research.

Dig in and tell us what you find.

State City Newspaper

Coverae

Collection

Alabama Mobile Alabama Staats-Zeitung

02/08/1917–02/08/1917

Newspaper Archives

California Martinez Martinez News-Gazette*

01/06/2009–Current

Recent Obituaries

California San Diego Evening Tribune

9/29/1908–12/31/1914

Newspaper Archives

California San Diego San Diego Union

05/12/1871–07/17/1905

Newspaper Archives

District of Columbia Washington Daily Union

01/02/1846–12/31/1850

Newspaper Archives

District of Columbia Washington Evening Star

3/7/1913–2/9/1921

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Chicago Chicago Crusader*

11/26/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Peoria Journal Star

4/1/1951–3/31/1953

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Journal

1/9/1907–3/23/1913

Newspaper Archives

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register

4/1/1915–12/3/1922

Newspaper Archives

Indiana Gary Gary Crusader*

12/03/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate

3/1/1933–7/30/1975

Newspaper Archives

Louisiana New Orleans Advocate, The: New Orleans Edition*

10/22/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Maine Biddeford Justice de Biddeford

09/16/1897–03/02/1950

Newspaper Archives

Maine Sanford Justice de Sanford

04/29/1926–12/06/1928

Newspaper Archives

Maryland Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

12/28/1850–06/30/1853

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston American Traveller*

05/02/1862–10/21/1862

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald

1/1/1851–12/30/1972

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller

10/1/1945–12/31/1951

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller*

10/02/1854–03/31/1864

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Argus*

11/16/1898–6/24/1907

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times

10/15/1903–5/2/1908

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times*

9/1/1903–12/29/1906

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News-Argus*

6/25/1907–5/2/1908

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan Argus*

10/17/1879–12/27/1907

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor True Democrat*

12/19/1845–3/8/1849

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ypsilanti Ypsilanti Commercial*

4/17/1869–8/25/1898

Newspaper Archives

New Jersey Collingswood Retrospect, The*

01/06/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

New Jersey Egg Harbor City Egg Harbor Pilot

10/17/1908–02/20/1915

Newspaper Archives

New Jersey Newark Newark Daily Advertiser

12/28/1864–12/29/1866

Newspaper Archives

New York New York Courrier des Etats-Unis

11/17/1859–01/26/1885

Newspaper Archives

New York New York Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

06/04/1870–10/28/1871

Newspaper Archives

New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung*

01/14/1894–02/27/1898

Newspaper Archives

New York Plattsburgh Burgh, The*

08/05/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

New York Skaneateles Skaneateles Press*

08/04/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News

7/30/1939–2/12/1973

Newspaper Archives

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record

9/13/1946–7/14/1964

Newspaper Archives

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post

6/17/1885–6/26/1897

Newspaper Archives

Oklahoma Bethany Bethany Tribune*

12/07/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Fairland American, The*

10/04/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Nowata Nowata Star*

10/03/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Perry Perry Daily Journal*

12/04/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Vinita Vinita Daily Journal, The*

11/10/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Oklahoma Weatherford Weatherford Daily News*

11/27/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Erie Erie Tageblatt

03/07/1899–04/20/1903

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Harrisburg Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung

02/03/1831–02/03/1831

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Jeannette Jeannette Spirit, The*

11/15/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Ligonier Ligonier Echo, The*

04/21/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Monroeville North Journal*

04/12/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Monroeville Times Express, The*

04/14/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Penn Hills Plum Advance Leader*

11/08/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Druid

01/15/1929–03/01/1929

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Pittsburgh National Labor Tribune

01/11/1941–08/18/1945

Newspaper Archives

Pennsylvania Scottdale Independent-Observer, The*

04/21/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania South Hills South Hills Record*

11/07/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier

2/21/1895–4/13/1910

Newspaper Archives

South Carolina Charleston Evening Post

5/26/1899–6/20/1922

Newspaper Archives

Tennessee Spring Hill Advertiser News, The*

05/14/2007–Current

Recent Obituaries

Texas Jasper Jasper Newsboy, The*

12/28/2005–Current

Recent Obituaries

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch

6/11/1944–9/15/1986

Newspaper Archives

Washington Ocean Shores North Coast News, The*

03/24/2009–03/23/2012

Recent Obituaries

Wisconsin Milwaukee Wahrheit

12/22/1906–06/25/1910

Newspaper Archives

Tracing the Bohutinsky Family Tree: Good Finds from Bad News

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about finding some bad news in his family history—and how this turned into good clues for his genealogy.

It seems that in genealogy even bad news can magically be transformed into good news, which is quite a feat when you think about it. Recently I decided that I was going to do some in-depth research on a branch of my family that I had not worked on before. It was during this research that I witnessed bad news turn good right before my eyes—and it was via GenealogyBank.com. Here is that story!

One of the more challenging branches of my family tree has been the Bohutinsky branch of our family. Research on this family branch remains a “work in progress,” but I do know that they appeared in Cleveland, Ohio, from Bohemia sometime prior to 1870. This means that they were amongst the earlier Bohemian immigrants to that area. Now let me tell you, not only does Bohutinsky get altered by misspellings, typographical errors, etc., but there are also branches that made the decision to change their surname from Bohutinsky to Bohntinsky, Botin, and even Bugg. Add to this the fact that some of the men chose to abandon their Bohemian given names and adopt Americanized given names—but then at times reverted back to their original Bohemian given names! Needless to say it has been a fun and complicated search.

As you might expect, it got even more challenging as I worked to find marriages and the ensuing families and paths for the female offspring in the family, but here is where truly bad news turned good.

One day as I was doing my research on the Bohutinsky line I happened upon a brief newspaper article from 1885.

James Bohutinsky domestic violence, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 3 October 1885

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 3 October 1885, page 8

I was sad to read the story that James (born Vaclav) Bohutinsky was “fined $5 and costs” in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for striking his young married daughter and her “babe.” This was certainly not the type of thing I like to find in my family history, nor do any of us. Domestic violence is terrible, even if the defendant was, as the article stated, “a little old man.”

However, I soon discovered that this historical newspaper article provided some good news for me as well!

I was very pleased to find that the daughter’s given name of Barbara was reported, as was her married surname of Seitz. This was a wonderful genealogical discovery. I immediately switched my search from Bohutinsky to Seitz and started looking for Barbara.

I quickly found an old newspaper article published back in 1900 that leads me to believe Barbara might have been active in the Knights of the Maccabees, a fraternal organization that was formed in 1878.

Knight and Lady "Bees," Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

This lengthy old newspaper article listed numerous officers in the organization, and buried in all those names I found mention that Barbara Seitz was “mistress-at-arms.”

Barbara Seitz, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 18 January 1900

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 January 1900, page 7

After consulting other genealogy resources such as Ancesty.com, I found the family on the 1900 United States Census.

Then, back on GenealogyBank.com, it wasn’t long before I came across a death notice from 1904 which listed the death of one Barbara Seitz at 153 Beechwood Avenue in Cleveland, at the age of only 37.

Barbara Seitz death notice, Plain Dealer newspaper article 26 November 1904

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 November 1904, page 4

Although Barbara’s life and marriage were both cut short, I later found information about the “babe” that was referenced in the first article I had found. As a result of that I now know her name, and I am on the path of that daughter: Grace Seitz Vretman. So my ancestry search continues.

Yes, finding a historical newspaper article about domestic violence in my family history was dismaying, but the silver lining in that dark cloud was discovering an important family clue that has led to other searches for other members of my family.

I still have lots to learn about the Bohutinsky members of my family and especially the Bohutinsky/Seitz/Vretman branch, but it certainly has been nice to see that initial piece of bad news turn into something so good and helpful in my genealogy research!

Historical Cleveland, Ohio, Newspapers from 1800s-Today Online!

GenealogyBank has Cleveland, Ohio, newspapers online, dating back to 1845 and right up to today, to help you with your family research in “The Buckeye State.” That is more than a century and a half of content to help you uncover your family history and discover interesting facts about Cleveland’s past! Research thousands old news articles, obituaries, pictures and more to trace back your ancestry.

“The Forest City” was settled in 1796 and incorporated in 1814. Wherever American settlers went newspapers were sure to follow, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s first issue rolled off the press on 7 April 1845.

masthead, Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper 7 April 1845

Masthead, Cleveland Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 7 April 1845

Here is a quick list to help you research your genealogy in the back files of Cleveland’s historical newspapers online:

Newspaper Coverage Collection
Aliened American 4/9/1853 – 4/9/1853 Newspaper Archives
Cleveland Gazette 8/25/1883 – 5/20/1945 Newspaper Archives
Plain Dealer 4/7/1845 – 5/31/1991 Newspaper Archives
Plain Dealer 8/2/1991 – Current Recent Obituaries
Plain Dealer, The: Web Edition Articles 10/15/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries

GenealogyBank has two search pages for Cleveland newspapers, one for its “Newspaper Archives” collection and one for “Recent Obituaries.”

Here is a link to the search page for the Cleveland digital newspaper archives, dating from 1845-1991: Cleveland Newspaper Archives.

GenealogyBank search page for Cleveland, Ohio, Newspaper Archives

GenealogyBank search page for Cleveland, Ohio, Newspaper Archives

Here is a link to the Cleveland recent obituaries archives, dating from 1991-today: Cleveland Recent Obituaries.

GenealogyBank search page for Cleveland, Ohio, Recent Newspaper Obituaries

GenealogyBank search page for Cleveland, Ohio, Recent Newspaper Obituaries

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about resources and techniques to help you find family history information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you’re not familiar with that language.

GenealogyBank’s recent announcement that it is adding Italian American newspapers in 2013 is a welcome addition—but it may also concern family history researchers who are nervous about navigating foreign languages.

However, there are certain resources and techniques you can use to find valuable genealogical information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you have limited—or no—familiarity with the language, as this article explains.

My roots include a number of German immigrants who settled in various parts of Pennsylvania. By using specific techniques, I have been able to locate information about these ancestors from the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

Some of these German-language newspapers include:

  • Cincinnati Volksfreund (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Der Wahre Amerikaner (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Der Zeitgeist (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Deutsche Porcupein (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Egg Harbor Pilot (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Highland Union (Highland, Illinois)
  • New Jersey Deutsche Zeitung (Newark, New Jersey)
  • Nordwestliche Post (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania)
  • New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York)
  • Northumberland Republicaner (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

When presented with a language hurdle in your genealogy research, try not to be intimidated.

By employing a free language translator such as Google Translate and consulting foreign genealogical word lists, you may be able to determine the gist of a notice, such as the two death notices shown in the following illustration. They report that the decedents died (“starb”) on last Sunday night (“Sontag Nacht”), and on last Monday morning (“Montag Morgen”), respectively.

death notices from German-language newspapers

Death notices from German-language newspapers

Some of my family’s notices were published in the Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), which published alternately in both English and German.

Daniel Miesse obituary, Reading Adler newspaper article 14 April 1818

Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 14 April 1818, page 2

This particular German-language obituary relates to my ancestor Daniel Miesse (28 January 1743, Elsoff, Germany to 1 April 1818, Berks County, Pennsylvania), who died in Bern Township in the 76th year of his age. This death notice was a bit more challenging to understand, since several German terms did not translate directly. For example, the first word (“Berstarb”) stumped me, but I was able to figure out that it corresponded to the term “verstarb” (died).

An interesting explanation of the interchangeability of Germanic letters can be found in Family Search’s German Word List.

Its explanation notes that “spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries,” so variations are common. It is best to substitute letters, if you cannot make a definitive translation, or to do a reverse look-up by querying obvious terms. For example, choose a word in English that you might assume to be in a foreign notice. Then, translate it into your target language (e.g., German).

This blog article would not be complete without noting that search engines are often type-face-challenged; being persistent and varying your queries is central to finding ancestral notices in foreign-language newspapers.

While researching my genealogy, I sometimes query with German terms whose meanings I have learned over the years: “taufe” or “taufen” helps locate christenings; “heiraten” finds marriages; and husband or wife can be found by searching on the terms “mann,” “ehermann” and “gatte,” or “ehegattin,” “frau” and “gattin.”

Generally, search software does a fine job in responding to queries, by employing sophisticated “optical character recognition” (OCR) techniques—which is the process by which the computer makes an electronic conversion of scanned images.

However, it sometimes does not produce the desired results. Reasons vary, but foreign publications often used different type styles, such as German Fraktur, Blackletter and Gothic type, and foreign languages may include letters of the alphabet which do not exist in English.

And even old English presents a unique situation—since archaic spellings changed over time. The classic example is the interchangeable use of ff and ss, as seen in this 18th century spelling of possessed.

the word "possessed" as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

The word “possessed” as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

Hopefully, by employing these techniques, you will be able to successfully navigate a variety of foreign-language newspapers. Don’t be intimidated! Plunge right in—you may be agreeably surprised by what you find out about your family history.

GenealogyBank’s Archives Keep Growing, Every Single Day

In the next few weeks GenealogyBank will be adding even more newspapers to its vast online historical newspaper archives, which currently contain more than 6,400 titles and over 1.25 billion articles—including more than 215 million obituaries.

Here is a list of the newspaper titles and date ranges that will be added from seven states: Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia—plus the District of Columbia.

In the next few weeks GenealogyBank will be adding even more newspapers to its vast online historical newspaper archives, which currently contain more than 6,400 titles and over 1.25 billion articles—including more than 215 million obituaries.

Here is a list of the newspaper titles and date ranges that will be added from seven states: Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia—plus the District of Columbia.

State City Newspaper

Issues

Pages

Start

End

District of Columbia Washington (DC) Evening Star            812     22234

4/28/1908

3/20/1912

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register               81        1184

7/3/1896

7/25/1915

Massachusetts Boston Boston Daily Record            226        3956

6/6/1958

8/25/1961

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald 4819 78844

9/21/1920

1/31/1969

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveller 1029     41660

7/1/1948

10/31/1959

Nebraska Omaha Omaha World Herald                  1               52

9/17/1981

9/17/1981

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News               30            620

7/1/1939

7/31/1939

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro News and Record               38        3940

4/4/1984

2/23/1986

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record               62        2295

3/1/1946

10/21/1983

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post               23            425

7/23/1915

12/20/1922

South Carolina Charleston Evening Post                  5               62

10/5/1912

7/16/1913

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch               43        2433

10/27/1935

1/31/1954

 

 

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

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena describes how old newspaper articles about your ancestor’s divorce can provide valuable family history information to help with your genealogical searches.

I am always surprised when people assume life was so much better generations ago. After all, there was no divorce, drunkenness, or crime, right? Well the great thing about newspapers is that they document all of life: the good, the bad and the ugly. And yes, that ugly included events happening in the “good old days.”

Need proof that yesteryear wasn’t so grand all the time? As long as there has been marriage, some couples have regretted the day they said “I do” and looked for ways to sever that tie. One way to examine American divorce statistics is through U.S. census data. The following newspaper article provides statistics for marriages and divorces based on U.S. census data for the years 1887-1906. In that 20-year period there were 12,832,014 marriages and 945,625 divorces.

Startling Divorce Statistics Given by Census Bureau, Morning Olympian newspaper article 22 December 1908

Morning Olympian (Olympia, Washington), 22 December 1908, page 4

Divorces are recorded in several ways in the newspaper, providing useful clues for further genealogy research. Some examples of divorce records that you can find in newspapers include notices to an absent party in the legal advertisements section, short articles about the outcome of a divorce trial along with other court actions, or even a longer article with detailed descriptions of the allegations, the trial, and the outcome.

The following old news article about divorces heard in the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) court makes it obvious that “the divorce business is on the increase” because of some apparent reasons, such as domestic violence and adultery. Consider the treatment of this unhappy woman: “A long story of extreme cruelty was related by Mrs. Caroline Pavlikofsky as a ground for divorce from Gotlieb Pavlikofsky.” It’s reported that in one year of marriage he had “frequently beaten her…drove her out of the house, threw a burning lamp at her, threatened to beat her brains out with a heavy pan, and such things.”

Divorce Grind, Plain Dealer newspaper article 20 May 1893

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 May 1893, page 4

A boon to genealogists are the newspaper articles that list the full names of all the parties involved in divorce court cases, including the judge.

20 Divorce Suits Are Dismissed, Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper article 4 February 1908

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), 4 February 1908, page 3

Once a genealogy researcher finds mention of their ancestor’s divorce in the newspaper they should then search the Family History Library Catalog or consult with the relevant county’s courthouse to find additional divorce records. If you have never researched court records I recommend studying the book Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures by Christine Rose, as well as The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood.

In some cases you may get much more than just confirmation of your ancestor’s divorce from the newspaper. In the old divorce article example below you also get some additional information and perhaps motives. Historical newspaper articles about divorce cases can also include other important data like marriage date, some possible motivations to marry, and the complaints against the spouse.

Divorce Docket Day, St. Louis Republic newspaper article 25 June 1889

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

Not everyone lived happily ever after. Divorce in your ancestor’s time period was a reality just as it is now. Search newspapers for references throughout your ancestor’s life in your genealogy research and you might be surprised by what you find out about your family history.

How to Use Old Newspapers to Research Family Stories & Photos

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches online newspapers to figure out who the companions are that appear with his grandmother in an old family photograph.

Recently my awesome Mom (God bless her as she is 92, still going strong, and loves to help me with our family history) gave me a couple of old family photographs. One was a photo of my paternal grandmother, Ina Cottle Phillips, with the notation on the back “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” As you can guess, as a genealogist I was off and running trying to discover the “Wade” portion of that note. Who were these companions of my grandmother?

Photo of Ina Cottle Phillips on the Boardwalk with the Wades

Ina Cottle Phillips, seated in the rear, “On the Boardwalk with the Wades.” Photo from the author’s collection.

First, I did what every genealogist should do: ask the elders! I asked my mom, who had a recollection that when my grandmother first arrived as an immigrant in Cleveland, Ohio, she got a job with a Wade family. Ah ha! Next, I reviewed my family tree notes and found that I had a reference, long forgotten, that said my grandmother was the “traveling companion” of one Mrs. Wade of Cleveland. Now this story was getting interesting! I wondered who might, in the early 1900s, have had a “traveling companion.”

Next stop was searching the old newspapers at GenealogyBank.com. It wasn’t long before a fun story began to unveil itself. First I happened across a vast number of references to Wade families in Cleveland, but one in particular stood out. An old newspaper article published in the Cleveland Leader explained that one Wade family gave substantial donations around Cleveland, including a large piece of land for what, still to this day, is known as Wade Park.

The Gifts of the Wades, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 10 May 1902

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 10 May 1902, page 6

I dug deeper into the historical newspaper archives and soon found a beautiful drawing from the Plain Dealer showing the Wade Memorial Chapel in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.

illustration of the Wade Memorial Chapel, Plain Dealer newspaper article 25 December 1898

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 25 December 1898, page 1

Sensing that I might be on to something I started looking for obituaries, and sure enough found an exceptionally informative one in the Chicago Herald that gave quite a biography of Jeptha Wade. The old obituary’s lead was that Mr. Wade was the man who saw the true value in a newfangled device called the telegraph, and started a company known to this day: Western Union. This obituary also tied in Cleveland and Wade Park.

Demise of Jeptha E. Wade, Chicago Herald newspaper article 10 August 1890

Chicago Herald (Chicago, Illinois), 10 August 1890, page 11

Next I sharpened the focus of my genealogy research to include both the Wade and Cottle names and got a hit, but when I opened the newspaper article I was surprised to find that the Cottle was not my grandmother: it was an obituary for her brother George. I learned that he, too, had a connection to the Wade family. The obituary stated that my great uncle George worked for the Wade family in their Wade Realty Company for 35 years. A fun aside was discovering that he was also a gardener for John D. Rockefeller, but that will have to be a different story for a later time!

George B. Cottle, Plain Dealer newspaper article 27 January 1966

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 January 1966, page 61

Now the pieces were beginning to fit. Brother George immigrated first and got a job with the Wade family. Could he possibly then have vouched for my grandmother and helped her get a job as traveling companion for Mrs. Wade? Perhaps on one of their trips someone took the old photos of her that I now hold in my hands.

It has been tremendous fun learning about this aspect of my Cottle ancestors and beginning to understand the possible history of those photographs my Mom gave me. Now to finish the task! Thanks to some more genealogy detective work I have located the living descendants of the Wade family and have reached out and asked them if they might review the old photographs. Hopefully, they can identify my grandmother’s companions in the photos—and if I am really, really lucky, they just might.

Now…I wonder if anyone out there needs a “traveling companion” today. I’d sure be happy to apply for the job!