Using Newspapers: The Gossip Column

This may be referred to as the “Social News” section or “Local Items,” something along those lines. But really, it’s the gossip column. Back before there were privacy issues and concerns, you could find out just about anything about anyone in the newspaper. If something really scandalous happened, it may have made front page news. But those more mundane items that all nosy busy-bodies wanted to know, could be found in the newspaper. Who went where for dinner. Who went into town or the big city for shopping. Who was going out of state for vacation or to visit relatives. Who bought what on their shopping trip. Who attended a party and for who or what.

You get the idea. It was Facebook of the day. If photography existed or was easier to print, we may have even seen photos of what someone had for dinner. Let’s look at some examples.

Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, 12 September 1886, pg. 3.

I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again now. Newspapers are a fantastic way of locating an ancestor’s friends, associates, and neighbors (FAN Club). These people can often be clues to solving mysteries such as making sure you are looking at the right individual and not someone of the same name. The article above is a fun description of a birthday party, but also lists everyone who attended.

Buckeye Valley News, Buckeye, Arizona, 18 April 1935, n.p.

Here is another example of “Local News.” There is news of folks down with the flu, of new employees at the City Cleaners, an new Avon sales agent in town, and more. My great-grandfather, Sanford Sly, the Clerk at the 3-H Mercantile, spent the weekend with his family at Tucson and “they will join him here when school closes at Tucson.” I’m still not sure what the school is. But I do know that his (adopted) daughter, Alice Sly, was being treated for tuberculosis at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson. She was a young adult when they moved to Buckeye, Arizona from the Buckeye State (Ohio). So, I’m not sure if she was attending a school of higher learning there or if they were keeping her illness somewhat of a secret. I’m not sure.

But this local news item gives me some clues to look into. I love the gossip column and can get stuck there reading up on everyone’s mundane business. It takes me back in time to kind of see and understand what everyday life was like.

1 thought on “Using Newspapers: The Gossip Column

  1. I discovered this aspect of newspaper research as well – so many wonderful tidbits to glean! Through one of these columns, I found the date my husband’s great-grandparents left one province for another here in Canada, as their farewell dinner made the newspaper. I could get lost in old newspapers so easily – so much to learn from them.

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