Using Newspapers: More Than Obituaries

“Aaron Businger is Called by Death,” obituary, The Daily Sentinel-Tribune, Bowling Green, Ohio, 22 March 1939, p1, col 3. 

Newspaper items can enhance your family history research by adding social context and local history. The stories captured by newspapers give glimpses into our ancestors’ lives like few other sources do. When I got started doing genealogical reserach, I began by researching obituaries. I was self-taught, as many of us are, and I thought about what kinds of sources I could access. When I began researching my family history, Ancestry was just barely coming online, census records were barely digitized and they most certainly were not indexed when I started. And MOST definitely, there were no digitized newspapers available when I got started. I spent a lot of time visiting the library back in Wood County, Ohio where my ancestors are from and cranked my fair share of microfilm!

My research began primarily with obituaries. I collected those of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Then I used the clues in their obits to identify their family groups, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so on. Then I looked up those folks’ obituaries… and on and on. Pretty soon, I had over 500 obituaries in my research collection!

When scrolling through those newspapers, I was often distracted by other headlines, a name would catch my eye, a picture, diagram, advertisement, and so on. I learned so much about the location, events that were happening, issues affecting the community, the weather, and so on. Stories found in newspaper articles can give clues for further research paths and strategies.

In this next series I’m going to highlight some of the newspaper items other than obituaries that I have found and have helped me with my research. I have come across some very interesting tidbits and hope you will have fun seeing some of these items.

1 thought on “Using Newspapers: More Than Obituaries

  1. We searched only for obituaries because we had exact dates. I wrote many letters to librarians across the country asking for obituary look ups. Most would only do a few days to a week past the death date. I would also do the same for old RAOGK (Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness) website back in the day. When newspapers became digitized online, it became a real gold mine, where we can find all kinds of articles about our families. Looking forward to your examples.

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