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Newspaper Research: Part 1, An Overview

The list of data that can be obtained from a newspaper is only limited by the researcher's imagination.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Carolyne Gould
Word Count: 644 (approx.)
Labels: Marriage Record 
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Newspapers offer an invaluable and varied resource for family historians and genealogy researchers. Although obituaries are often the first items sought, too often the researcher stops there. The list of data that can be obtained from a newspaper is only limited by the researcher's imagination. Many of the items listed below, when found in a newspaper, can provide three things an old document or Bible record may not include --- details, details, details:

  • Births
  • Deaths
  • Marriages
  • Probate court and legal records
  • Divorces
  • Land sales and purchases
  • Tax lists
  • Family visits, illnesses and tribulations
  • Postal notices
  • Biographies (political, historical)

Prior to 1906, most states did not regularly maintain records of births and deaths. Those old newspapers may be your only primary source for documentation. And, even when you may know the date of a marriage, or have a copy of a marriage certificate, there may be details in an area newspaper that can not only flesh out the history of the marriage itself, but provide other information as well. Let's look at a couple of examples. The following item is extracted from the "Wichita Daily Times", Wichita, Texas, 1 April 1908 edition:

"Billy Hansard, the postmaster at Thornberry; arrived this afternoon with his bride from Arkansas, where the wedding took place a few days ago. Some of the Thornberry people who were in town say that they are preparing to give Mr. HANSARD and his bride a rousing welcome tonight and that all the ... cows in the neighborhood will be relived of their neck bells in order to furnish the most necessary instruments that cut such an important part on an occasion of this nature."

The little extract above tells us the occupation of Billy Hansard and the town where he works. The date of the wedding can be pinned down to the last week of March, 1908, and it occurred in Arkansas. Since Billy lived in Texas and brought his bride home, her family is most likely from Arkansas. Now you can check Arkansas newspapers for more information. By the way, the bells mentioned in the article may have been used to make a great deal of noise near the home of the bridal couple on their marriage night. This was part of a custom called a "shiveree."

If you are lucky, the article details of a marriage may list many of the guests and their hometowns. If a minister officiated, you may receive a clue to the church, or type of church, your ancestors attended. This will open up a whole new line of research.

In older newspapers, the comings and goings of family and friends were considered news. The following short abstract from the "Cumby Rustler, Cumby, Texas, 14 February 1908 edition provides the maiden name of the woman who was the wife of Clyde Sweeton on that date.

"Prof. H. P. Eastman of Commerce was the guest last night of his daughter, Mrs. Clyde Sweeton."

Perhaps your ancestor or other family member ran for political office and an heretofore unknown biography may materialize. Historical editions of newspapers commemorating town, county, or state anniversaries often contain material that was never written anywhere else. Check the editorial pages for opinion pieces, and be sure to search all legal notices and advertising.

If you are trying to learn what life was like during an ancestor's sojourn in a particular place and time, there is no better resource than the area newspaper. I have found agricultural and economic news, weather disasters and love triangles played out in the pages of old newspapers. I even found an article and photo, showing my grandfather who had caught a 65-pound catfish in the river near his house --- and that's no fish story.

See also:

Newspaper Research: Part 2, Which One and Where
Newspaper Research: Part 3, Reviewing Microfilm

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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