Finding Our Ancestors’ Genealogy Research in Old Newspapers

Introduction: In this article, Mary Harrell-Sesniak explains that some of our ancestors who were family historians turned to their local newspaper for advice and answers – and those queries, published long ago, can prove very helpful to modern-day genealogists. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

One of the goals of this blog is to help you use GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives more productively. From time to time, blog articles offer tips on overlooked aspects of GenealogyBank’s collections, and for this article I’d like to add one of my favorites tips: searching for clues in old time genealogy queries that our ancestors made to their local newspapers. Some call this data mining, but I prefer to think of it as mining for genealogical gold!

Our ancestors who were interested in family history sometimes turned to the newspaper for research, answers and advice. You never know what you will find in letters submitted to newspapers by these genealogist ancestors.

Some of our ancestors’ genealogy questions were printed in ongoing columns, such as the “Who’s Who and Their Forbears” column the Times-Picayune published for a couple of years early in the 20th century. The queries within these columns are well worth reviewing, as they contain information that may have been overlooked by current-day family historians.

An article about genealogy, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 January 1913
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 January 1913, page 34

Your genealogically-interested cousins may have provided information from their personal files that you do not know.


Just as we see today, our ancestors shared transcribed documents – so keep an eye out for them and note how life was in earlier times. For example, Oliver Farnsworth’s bond to Rebecca Kemp in 1790 was reprinted years later in this 1903 newspaper article. Here are some of the items promised her in the bond:

  • Comfortable and decent lodging
  • Comfortable and decent wearing apparel
  • Household utensils sufficient to cook or dress her own provisions in such a manner as she may see fit
  • A horse with suitable tackling to ride as she may have occasion from time to time
  • 150 pounds of good pork and 50 pounds of good beef annually
  • 7 bushels of Indian meal annually
  • 6 bushels of rye meal annually
  • 1 bushel of good salt annually
  • 1 barrel of good cyder annually
An article about Oliver Farnsworth and Rebecca Kemp, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 14 June 1903
Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 14 June 1903, section B, page 1


Many researchers fail to document their research when using queries – so in this 1913 newspaper article, it’s wonderful to read the citations.

The first is reference to “an old abstract of a deed on record in Goochland County, Virginia,” referencing William Randolph of Tuckahoe. A derivative of this was printed in Vol. 4, Page 112 of the William and Mary Quarterly. A diligent family historian could use either of these – but to be thorough it would be recommended to read the original.

An article about William Randolph, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 January 1913
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 January 1913, page 37

Family Relics

Old queries may mention treasures you know little about, if at all.

And even if you do know about them, confirming the provenance can be a thrill. Note in this Daughters of the American Revolution newspaper column from 1901 the disposition of David Baldwin’s rifle. Maybe you could track that rifle down based upon this information.

I have an old musket or rifle that was borne in the 1781 battle of Cowpens by my ancestor David Baldwin. This relic has been handed down from sire to son in direct line.

An article about genealogy, Montgomery Advertiser newspaper article 6 October 1901
Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 6 October 1901, page 16

Genealogical Sketches

Genealogical sketches have traditionally been printed in newspapers with or without queries. The author of this one expanded it with details of the noted women of the Lamar family.

Rebecca Lamar, sister of Gazaway Lamar, became known as the “Heroine of the Pulaski” after she saved various family members from a steamer that was wrecked at sea.

An article about the Lamar family, Macon Telegraph newspaper article 28 February 1917
Macon Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 28 February 1917, page 4

Name Changes & Other Clues

Note in this 1913 newspaper article about the well-known Throckmorton family line an important reference to a surname change: instead of Throckmorton, the descendants in Potter County, Pennsylvania, customarily went by Morton.

An article about the Throckmorton family, Times-Picayune newspaper article 12 January 1913
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 12 January 1913, page 37

Comments & Observations

Have you found information in queries and genealogy columns in old newspapers? Has this helped you network with modern-day kin?

My observations from some of these newspaper columns is that the persons posting queries were not always fully named. You might see “Mrs. Jones” or even someone’s initials, so be creative in figuring out who posted a query and if any of their descendants became the family historian.

Please tell us about your finds in the comments section below.

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