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Newspaper Treasures

Researchers search newspapers for obituaries and wedding announcements. Judy Rosella Edwards shares unique finds you might not have thought of and teaches you a new way to read a newspaper.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 890 (approx.)
Labels: Military Record 
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Newspapers are gold mines for obituary information. They typically name members of the immediate family, besides providing the date and place of death and burial. Wedding announcements list the names of the parents and the wedding party, in addition to the date and place of the wedding. But for more recent genealogical information, there are two other unique sources you'll find in newspapers.

More Recent Marriages

Just about every small town newspaper reminisces during the final edition of the year. While many of the articles are business-related, long lists of who was married that year are often included. The bride and groom and date of their marriage within the county are listed. This information is usually not available from the courthouse for people who are still living. Since the information was already published when the couple was married, newspapers can and do publish the information. Look for the last issue of the a given year to find these lists.


During 1942 and 1943, newspapers published lists of military personnel. Sometimes these lists appeared two or three time, in different forms.

When citizens were drafted, it was big news. As draft numbers were drawn, newspapers published lists of local draftees and information about when they were to report. These lists were often given by town, rather than county, identifying their residency at the time. Even though birth dates are not given, the draftees are of a certain age. That helps estimate their date of birth.

In towns of 20,000 or so, papers often published group photos of draftees before they left to defend the country. Between October and December, the names of military personnel were published for a third time, sometimes with shipping addresses. This third list was a reminder that Christmas presents needed to be shipped by mid-November in order to reach military personnel in time for the Christmas holiday.

These two lists of personnel rarely appeared on page one. Newspapers usually placed them on page two or three. Long lists of personnel sometimes appeared very near the last page, usually on the page or so before the classified advertisements.

Military photos were a daily part of newspapers during the war. They typically sprinkled page three through five.

The most unfortunate military photographs were those who gave their lives protecting their country. In addition to an obituary, a personal story is often included in a separate article. These stories include the names of family members, and more detailed information about the family. They usually appear on page one or three and often include a family photograph.

If a military record doesn't seem to exist for someone, a local newspaper may hold the answer. Along with draftees, newspapers also published the names of conscientious objectors and the name of the camp where they were sent instead of going to war. Conscientious objectors did not just stay home. They served out their time in a camp or stateside prison.

On The Homefront

Newspapers from 1942 and 1943 ran full-page advertisements supporting the war and encouraging those at home to conserve and participate by donating to the Red Cross. Look closely, and you'll discover there is genealogical information included.

Lists of donors were published, especially those who donated extensively to the Red Cross. Sometimes names appear at the bottom of the ad. Other times a list will appear. An active Red Cross campaign sometimes generated a list of donors that appeared a few days after the initial drive notice.

Communities created their own Defense Council and published the names of the council members and their lieutenants. Since so many men were overseas, women often filled these roles. In keeping with the style of the times, married women's names were almost always prefaced with "Mrs." providing a genealogical tip that they were married.

Skimming through war-time newspapers, take the time to look at articles about Victory Garden contests. There will be lists of names of those who were on the homefront, organized by city, rather than county. The war efforts were very much based on local communities, even though there were county-wide scrap collection efforts and other project underway.


Every May or June, smaller towns publish the name of every local high school graduate. In some towns, the practice continues to this day and it dates back to at least the turn of the century in some locations. While larger papers tend to publish only the valedictorian and salutatorian, smaller communities have, for years, published the name of every graduate.

Digitizing Lists

The challenge with these lists is that they are long and it is a challenge to locate a given name. The simple solution is to digitize them and make the lists searchable for future reference if they might be of continued help. Either use a digital camera to photograph an on-screen microfilm image or copy of the newspaper. Or, print a copy of the microfilm page or photocopy the newspaper page and then scan it into digital format.

Then print the image to a PDF file. Use the professional version of Adobe Acrobat (not the Reader version) to optimize the image. Then OCR the file. Save it and use Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader to use the Find command to conduct digital searches on the names in the lists.


Don't overlook military personnel lists and other lists that appear in newspapers. They sometimes contain genealogical tidbits not available elsewhere.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

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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