All posts by cattaplin

About cattaplin

Researcher, writer, speaker

Using Newspapers: Crime Reports

Often there are “splashy” front page articles about criminal happenings in town or nationwide. Those headlines sell papers, even today. Beyond the front page, there might be information in the crime reports that is important to your research.

“Important Criminal Cases,” Semi-Weekly Louisianan, 17 September 1871, p. 1, col. 6. 

If your ancestor was in trouble with the law, they might show up in news articles such as the one above. If your ancestor was a lawyer, or judge, or worked in the jail, or was a policeman. What if your ancestor was murdered? These articles might be of interest.

Granted, there’s not a lot of information provided, mostly names and what they were charged with. However, it also states that these cases are pending in the First District Court in Louisiana. Most of the time, you will not find court records such as these digitized and available online. From home, how would you know where to look for the court records if it weren’t for news articles such as these? These can work like a substitute index when trying to locate court records.

You may be able to locate finding aids online, such as these from the City Archives New Orleans Public Library. They cover Suit and Case Records, 1846-1880 which are manuscript records of the proceedings in the civil suits and criminal cases filed before the First District Court. Their description states that…

“Individual criminal case records will contain some, but probably not all, of these documents (some cases, however, can contain little other than the indictment and final verdict):

  • indictment or affidavit–the criminal equivalent of the initial petition in a civil suit. It will set forth the specifics of the criminal conduct that caused the matter to be brought before the Court. On the reverse there will usually be recorded information on arraignment, final verdict or other disposition, and sentencing. 
  • Police reports 
  • Copy of Cornoner’s inquest 
  • Testimony and/or statements of witnesses, the accused, and police officers 
  • Bonds (bail and/or appeal) 
  • Documents from lower courts 
  • Motions, exceptions, and other pleadings filed by the attorney representing the accouses and/or by the District Attorney 
  • Orders, jury charges, and other rulings by the judge 
  • Jury lists 
  • Witness lists 
  • Arrest warrants 
  • Subpoenas 
  • Appeals and related documents 
  • Other documents may also be included.”

There are so many records not available online. I look forward to the days when I can visit the repositories again. Until then, I’m keeping up on my “pre-research” and making lists of the repositories to visit and what to look for when I’m there.

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.

Using Newspapers: Letters Lists

Back before we had postal carriers and post boxes, mail boxes at our driveway or in a large repository at the end of a block, our ancestors had to go in to the post office to pick up their mail. If they didn’t do that often enough, they would publish a list of letters to be picked up at the post office. Let’s look at this list below published in the Guthrie Daily Leader, Oklahoma, 2 May 1900:

Lists such as these can be very helpful in pinpointing your ancestor in a time and place, and produce a FAN Club (list of friends, associates, and neighbors) of sorts for your ancestor. This list is interesting because it separates items for men and woman. I did not know why until an audience participant told me about “Ladies’ Delivery Windows” at the post office. “In an attempt to prevent “timid females” from encountering “detention, rudeness and a thousand vexations” while picking up their mail, Post Offices in some cities had a special ladies delivery window dedicated to their use.” (See “Ladies Delivery Windows” below.)

Next time you pick up your mail from your porch or driveway, think of your ancestors having drive their wagons into town to pick up their mail.

Further Reading

Using Newspapers: Advertisements

We often think to look for the obituaries, birth announcements, legal notices, and general articles to add to our genealogical research and family stories. Did you ever consider advertisements for products? I hadn’t until I came across this advertisement for Paine’s Celery Compound with a testimonial by my 3rd great grandfather, Samuel Cook Dimick:

St. Paul Daily Globe, Minnesota, February 18, 1893, p. 5.

What is great about this article is the picture of my ancestor, S.C. Dimick. Up until this article was located, I did not have any photographs of him. I had never considered an advertisement could be so useful. Who does not like finding an image of a long-gone ancestor?

Samuel Cook Dimick is one of my favorite ancestors to research because he seemed to live a very full life, and all the time I am finding new bits of information about him. For example, I learned that he worked for one year as the farm superintendent on an Indian reservation in Minnesota from his biography in the county history for Wood County, Ohio. That led me to looking at records in Minnesota. I discovered that his father, Chester Dimick, purchased 15 different sections of land in Minnesota from the Federal Government that encompassed over 1600 acres! I have not done the follow-up to find the deeds indicating where he sold the land. As far as I knew, they never actually lived in Minnesota.

I’d read the text of the advertisement before, but to be honest, was hyper-focused on the image. Rereading it today, I did not remember that it states that to help his health condition he “…decided to try a change of climate, and spent nearly three months in Minnesota.” This leaves me with several questions. Did the family keep that Minnesota land for a longer time than I previously thought? I had assumed this was a money-making plan and they bought the land cheap from the government and then likely sold it for more later, but had not done the research to confirm it. Did they keep a home in Minnesota, like a vacation home? I really need to get into those deeds!

Two points here. First, don’t overlook the advertisements section. They can have clues and sometimes pictures of ancestors. And second, you have to go back and reread your documents from time to time. Most likely, when I first read this advertisement, the Minnesota piece didn’t stick out to me because I had not learned about all the land they owned there. Rereading documents with new things you’ve learned in mind will shine a spotlight on previously overlooked clues.

And a third point: Newspapers are more than the obituaries!

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.

2020 Mid-Year Update

Every year I write a post about my upcoming adventures in genealogy at least as I have planned at that point. Last December, I posted about the plans I had for the year and, with no idea about what was about to hit us this year, wrote about goal-setting. (Ha! I’d like to report most of my goals have been sidetracked and my latest goal is to get dressed everyday.)

So, most of my speaking engagements either got canceled by the sponsoring society or by me because I don’t feel that it is safe to travel this year (and possibly next, we shall see). I was able to convert one to a virtual event (the Caprock Genealogy Conference). The most recent to convert to virtual is the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conference. I will be giving a class on finding and keeping volunteers, and workshop on using Google Maps to Plan and Analyze your Research.

This week, I am the coordinator for a new course for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) “Following Your Ancestors in Time and Place.” We started on Monday and it has been a great week so far!

The course is meant to be an enjoyable “journey” through some of the processes for following ancestors as they arrived in the United States, why they may have decided to come, how they might have moved through the country, records they may have left along the way, some methodologies on how to find those records, and some in-depth tips on how to keep all of that information organized.

This course is a little different than most courses in that we have one instructor for each day:

  • Monday – Rich Venezia – “FindingYourAncestors as theyCome to America”
  • Tuesday – David McDonald – “Religion and Records: Colonials & Immigrants”
  • Wednesday – Paula Stuart-Warren – “Finding Your Ancestors as they Moved and Migrated in the United States”
  • Thursday – Me (Cari Taplin) – “Methodology for Finding Ancestors in Published Sources and Beyond”
  • Friday – Cyndi Ingle – “Organizing and Maintaining Your Research Once You’ve Collected It”

I feel like we created a great line-up of super-stars who are the best in the field in their respective themes.

Having class in a virtual setting has its pros and cons (I like sleeping in my own bed every night and not missing my family while I’m away. BUT I miss seeing my friends in person and visiting my dear friend Rose Mary in Pittsburgh when I come to town.)

I hope you are doing ok making the switch to a virtual world. I know change is hard but I think this could have benefits for people who are homebound, can’t afford the travel, have other responsibilities that keeps them at home. This virtual option is opening the door for so many who haven’t been able to participate before and I want to welcome them aboard!

My scheduled speaking events for the rest of this year:

Maybe I’ll “see” you there!

Box Adventures: Scanning is Slow Going

My daughter is staying home for the most part. She has a few safe-distance visits with a couple of friends, and they all wear masks responsibly (and if you are reading this in the future, I’m referring to the COVID-19 pandemic). She’s also knitted about 15 sweaters since staying-at-home started, and she reported that she’d watched every video on YouTube. A couple of times per week she comes and scans the photos and items from the box. She gets about 15 or 20 done usually.

The photos tend to fall into one of these categories:

  • childhood pictures of me
  • childhood pictures of my brother
  • pictures of ancestors
  • pictures of people I don’t know
  • pictures of scenery
  • more childhood pictures of me (I guess no one else wanted them)

So, here are a bunch of pictures of me at varying degrees of development. Enjoy!

Box Adventures: Wedding Napkins

When my husband and I were planning our very inexpensive wedding back in 1994, we were in college and on a tight budget. Our families helped pay for parts of the wedding but none of us had a bunch of money set aside for a fancy affair, which was just fine with me. I’m not a fan of putting on a dress and getting all dolled up. We were twenty years old at the time, and now that I have a son who is 19, I can only imagine what our families were thinking. But never fear, here we are almost 26 years later, still going strong!

Someone suggested that we needed to have wedding napkins. I don’t remember who that was now but I can remember thinking at the time that wedding napkins seemed like a weird and frivolous thing. In an effort to please, I ordered up some wedding napkins. We did not have a big fancy dinner. We had “gourmet” sandwiches (made by a local restaraunt, not Subway), a few sides, cake, and no alcohol or music because, remember, we were 20. Not old enough.

I want to thank whomever suggested the napkins. During my “box adventures” unpacking the box from my grandparents’ house I shipped to myself over ten years ago, I have found a couple of other wedding napkins from family members.

Helen and Dick are my Uncle Dick Dimick, brother to my grandmother, and his wife Helen who was known as “Pinky” who recently passed away and I wrote about a few weeks ago. My grandparents’ napkin isn’t printed. Instead, it has a handwritten notation “March 3, 1945 Margaret Ruth & Carl.” I suspect this was written by someone not as familiar with the family, and definitely wasn’t written by an immediate family member, because my grandpa spelled his name with a ‘K’ – Karl Miller. So it is curious how that got into my grandparents’ collection of stuff…but I’m ever grateful it did!

As my daughter was going through the items to scan, she said “a napkin???” Yes, indeed, even a napkin can have genealogical significance.

Box Adventures: Organizing Physical Items (Part 3): The Order Arrived!

I got most of my order from Gaylord. Everything but the three-ring clamshell box has arrived! It is on backorder but should ship next week.

In the meantime, the scanning has resumed since classes are over for my daughter and her work (lifeguarding) has not opened up yet. We came across some funeral registries where none of the front matter had been filled out (like whose funeral it was). Though there were some clues (like obituary clippings) and a tiny date written in the corner. These funeral visitor lists are chock full of surnames I recognize as family members or family friends.

Visitors to Carrie (Limmer) Miller’s funeral, 1955

If you were looking for an ancestor’s “FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors), this is a fantastic list! (For more on the FAN Club, visit this post from Elizabeth Shown Mills.) I have had a fun time remembering the names and my childhood memories of some of these folks. Researching some of these folks might hold some clues as to the Miller lineage. (I’m stuck at John and Mary Miller! Talk about common names…)

Happy researching and organizing and scanning!

Black Lives Matter

I am white. I can’t help that anymore than people of color can help the color of their skin. I realize that being white comes with privilege and I can sit in my safe little bubble of whiteness and not feel unsafe when a police officer is nearby. However, that feeling of safety has been crumbling, even in my whiteness, when I see how these officers can treat fellow human beings in the many videos of black people being shot, or knelt upon, or beaten until they die. I feel extreme sadness and pain on behalf of those who have lost their lives, or have lost a loved one to violence, based on the color of their skin. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of these incidents. I feel angry at a lack of leadership at the top (of many levels of government and other private organizations); we have “leaders” that are looking out for their personal interests and seem to have no compassion for the human beings they were selected to lead. I feel ineffective and afraid. In the world right now, not only do we have a major Black Lives Matter movement going on with peaceful (and sometimes not peaceful) protests, we have a deadly pandemic that is most likely spreading among those protestors who are trying to do so much good.

It’s got to stop being money over people.

It’s got to stop being ego over principles.

It’s got to stop being someone else’s problem.

It’s got to stop being “us” versus “them.”

I must pause writing my usual blog posts and acknowledge that I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. I also stand with other people of color, as well as with people in the LGBTQ community. That we can treat humans who are somehow “different” than we are with such vileness, rage, and hatred, especially when we hold a position of power, is sociopathic and disgusting. No one should die over a possible counterfeit $20, no one should die for jogging, no one should die reaching for their wallet when asked for their license. No one should die because of the color of their skin, or who they love, or for peacefully following their religious beliefs. No one should die for whatever stupid reason people create to hate others. These people are people who love, who have families, who are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, husbands, and wives. I am grieving for them.

My heart is heavy. This is all I can post this week.

Satellite imagery from Maxar (formerly Digital Globe, in Longmont, Colorado).