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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
After all of the “main” record types I mentioned in previous posts, I also looked at my favorite newspaper websites such as GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, and Chronicling America. I did not find anything relevant in the time I had allotted to work on this project.
Another favorite online database is FindAGrave.com. This is a collection of tombstone photographs and cemetery listings. I did find several relevant entries for Dimick and Scroggins family members:
There are several entries, including Sarah Scroggin(s) and Franklin Dimick in “Dimick Cemetery.” However, there are no photographs for either of them. Further research indicates that there are no tombstones or they are quite weathered and that this is a cemetery on private property, at one time being owned by the Dimick family. It is located near the town of Rosiclare, Illinois.
So, EVERYTHING is NOT on the Internet. At some point we have to put on clothes other than jammies and slippers and go to some repositories to further our research. However, there are still things you can do from home before you step outside and blink at the sun, that will be covered in the next post.
Sadly, some couples find their lives too difficult to continue living, for a variety of reasons. This phenomenon of the suicide pact is not new. The couple below were engaged to be married yet decided to commit suicide by strychnine ingestion:
Suicide pacts are not just for the young. The following older couple decided to commit suicide together because of financial difficulties and ailing health.
Probably the most tragic are the murder-suicide incidents. This young man felt that he would never be enough to marry the girl he loved and was so distraught that he felt that the only solution was to kill her and then himself.
Sometimes love is so strong and so mind-bending that logical and clear thought seems to escape some. Of course we can’t know for sure what was going on for these couples but their love tied them together even to death.
“Marriage is not about age; it’s about finding the right person.” Sophia Bush
(Read more at BrainyQuote.)
There’s nothing that says “love” like going to look for a good wife. There must have been a shortage of “good women” in North Dakota in 1878. Well, it wasn’t a state yet, but part of the Dakota Territory in 1878. Statehood for North Dakota occurred in 1889. The population was sparse (and continues to be) for the area. And I imagine there really was a lack of “good women.”
In the 1880 Dakota Territory census, Phillip W. Lewis is listed with his wife, Mary, and their son, John (age 1). And where are Phillip and Mary from? Virginia. I think Phillip found his good woman.