Search Newspapers for Anything

Some genealogists are great at searching newspapers and digital images of books for names of relatives, but remember that they can help you with other aspects of your family history research as well. For some of these items, searches will need to be restricted to specific newspapers or geographic regions to keep the number of search results manageable.

Here is a short list of ideas to help get your creative energy flowing:

  • items from an estate inventory that can be read but which you do not understand,
  • names of businesses in an estate inventory whose business you do not understand,
  • names of military units,
  • names of ministers,
  • names of churches,
  • street names (perhaps with house number),
  • name of school (perhaps restricted by graduation year if known),
  • telephone numbers,
  • Geographic locations.

Readers of the blog are free to ad suggestions of their own.

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Those Varying Maiden Names

Sometimes I hate the phrase “maiden name.” I know what it means, but there are times that, for one reason or another, trying to determine a female relative’s maiden name can be problematic.

That “last name at first marriage,” which is how maiden name is defined most of the time can be difficult to determine in some families. There is usually not a problem if the woman’s parents were married before her birth, remained living and married to each other until her birth, and if the woman remained in their household until her marriage. The problem is that sometimes life intervenes.

Fathers or mothers die. Parents get divorced. Some families are unable to raise all their children. The relationship that resulted in the child did not result in marriage or was extremely short-lived. All of these situations can result in the last name of a female ancestor at the time of her first marriage to be different than last names under which she is listed in other records before her marriage.

When there are varying “maiden names” for a female ancestor, keep in mind that a lot may have been going on in her life before marriage. The changes in her last name may have just been the least of it.

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The Northeast Bedroom

My great-aunt Ruth remembered a cute story that took place in my Mother’s grandparents’ home when my Mother was a small child. It involved Mom walking around the house and mentioned the northeast bedroom. The northeast bedroom?

As I read it, I scrunched my nose and made that face when I am certain that something is wrong. My own grandparents had lived in the same home for thirty years. I had been in it often. There was no northeast bedroom. The entire north side of the house was the living room. Then I remembered.

My Grandparents, not needing the downstairs bedrooms, had taken down a wall and enlarged the living room.  The seeming error in my great-aunt’s story was not an error at all.  My personal memory was the problem. It only extended through my life time.  In this case the discrepancy was small and my memory of what I had been told was able to rectify it.  Many times that is not the case. Don’t assume that someone else’s memory is incorrect. It could be that your personal knowledge is simply incomplete.

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This tip originally ran in March 2019.


Save those Online Obituaries

Just like any online record, online obituaries on funeral home websites can disappear. Funeral homes go out of business, merge with other facilities, change their entire website design, etc. Any of these situations can cause obituaries that were once online to go away forever.

Newspaper obituaries may hang around for a longer amount of time, but they may be shorter than the notice published on the funeral home’s website. My mother’s obituary on the funeral home website contains the names of some survivors and pre-deceased family members that we felt were important to include, but were “too distant” to meet the newspaper’s publication standards.

That’s another reason to get as many obituary copies as you can.

But those funeral home website obituaries–save them when you see them. Tomorrow may be too late.

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Finding Online Newspapers

No one website will have digital images of every newspaper you need and whether a specific site is helpful depends upon your personal research interests. Our suggestions here are meant to get you started. I’m not intending to provide a comprehensive list, but the sites listed, along with the suggestions, will get you on your way to locating digital images of newspapers you need–if they are online.

Some websites with links to specific newspapers:

To see what might have been published try:

Reach out to locals. The local library (city, town, county, etc.) may have links to newspapers on their website (a Google search for “yourlocation public library” should find its webpage). The local historical/genealogical society may have information on local newspapers on their website as well
(a Google search for “yourlocation genealogy society” should find its webpage). There may be localized groups on Facebook that could also provide some direction.

Remember–every newspaper published is not yet available digitally.


Nativity of the Census Neighbors?

When you find someone in the census, do you look at the nativity of others on the same or adjacent census pages? How common or unusual was your relative’s place of birth compared to their neighbors? Were they living in a neighborhood where they were in the majority or the minority in terms of place of birth? Was there even a majority in terms of place of birth? If the census asked the question, were most people homeowners or renters? How does your relative’s occupation compare to that of his neighbors?

Sometimes the biggest clues about a relative in his census enumeration aren’t on the line that contains his name.

This tip originally ran in March 2019.


Preparing for the 1950 Census Release: 1 April 2022

The blog of the National Archivist of the United States contained a post about the 1 April 2022 release of the 1950 United States population census schedules. Their post talked about their preparation for the release of the digital images. Questions about the rollout should be directed to the National Archives, not to me.

For the genealogist wanting to prepare for the release, think about which of your relatives would be alive in 1950. Think about where they would be living in 1950. For individuals living in rural areas of the United States, the township, election district, town, or village name may be sufficient–depending upon how populated those areas are. In many rural areas of the United States, specific street addresses may be difficult if not impossible to get (my relatives simply have rural route address (RFD 1, RFD 2, etc. ) and may not cut down on manual search time if the population is small.

For those with urban ancestors, addresses will be helpful if indexes are not available or do not locate the person of interest. City or telephone directories in the 1948-1952 time frame may prove helpful for those who moved around quite a bit. Other records that provide addresses, such as death certificates, newspaper death notices, etc. may be helpful as well. For those who want to be really organized with their 1950 search, creating a spreadsheet of each living person of interest in 1950 may be helpful. That spreadsheet could at least include:

  • Name as of 1950
  • Address (for city dwellers) or township, etc. (for rural residents)
  • Approximate age in 1950
  • Place of birth
  • Head of household they probably are listed in

The countdown to 1950 is on!


Did They Just Pop In?

A female relative seems to just appear in an Indiana county in the early 1830s in time to marry her husband. There are apparently no records in the county of any of her other family members. There are many possibilities, but some of the more plausible ones are:

  • Her family only lived in the area for a short time–just long enough for her to meet her husband and marry. She stayed the rest of them moved one and she was the only one to marry while the family lived in the area.
  • She had no other full siblings, her father had died young, and her mother is “hiding” under her second husband’s name which is where all the relative’s half-siblings are showing up as well.
  • Her family was not well-off enough to leave many records–especially in the time period in question when there are fewer records in general.
  • Her family actually lived in a nearby county which has not been researched.
  • She was married before and the last name on her marriage record is not her maiden name at all.

Feel free to post other possibilities in the comments.


They All Didn’t Naturalize

Not every immigrant naturalized. Many did, particularly if they wanted to vote. But before the early part of the 20th century a significant portion of immigrants to the United States did not bother with becoming citizens. Your ancestor may have been one of them.

Just remember though that just because you cannot find a naturalization record for your ancestor, it does not mean he did not naturalize. You just may not be able to find it.