Making the Most of Newspapers and a PLOY!
Introduction: The Fianna Guide is an ongoing project which is being compiled by a group of Irish genealogical researchers who are taking online genealogy classes at Virtual University. This term our instructor, Marthe Arends, completely revised the class and added some new and interesting material. I really enjoyed all the lessons presented in the new format, but my favorite lesson was one which was not included in the original syllabus. In response to questions generated by the previous lesson., Marthe introduced a lesson on using newspapers in genealogical research with an emphasis on online sources.
As I worked with this lesson, I became more and more enthusiatic, and kept bombarding the other Fianna members with my homework, each time assuring them that this was truly the final installment of the Rigfennid's homework. Finally I decided to temporaily abandon my other Guide projects and write a brief article on the role of newspapers in genealogical research including the online resources I had discovered.
The following material may seem overly oriented to my own research. I live in the northwest corner of Missouri close to the Kansas, Iowa,and Nebraska borders. I am currently researching my paternal ancestors, Irish famine immigrants, who settled briefly in the eastern part of the United States before migrating here to the midwest in the years immediately before and after the Civil War. However, I am only trying to give you a brief overview of the resources I have found. Please try to think of ways to apply these techniques to your own research. Marthe Arends, our VU instructor, used examples from her research on her German ancestors in the lesson. I used her suggestions to locate other online newspaper sources which were applicable to my own interests.
Newspaper Resorces in Genealogical Research
First of all what information can you find in newspapers?
Most genealogists immediately think of obituaries or
birth and marriage notices. In areas where no vital
records were kept before the 20th century, the use of
newspapers is essential in genealogical research.
Even in areas where vital records once existed, the
records have frequently been destroyed by fire or
other disasters. Many southern records were lost when
the county courthouses burned. The Great Chicago fire
in 1871 destroyed all the Cook County Illinois Public
Records so newspapers are essential components in
early Cook County genealogical research. In the county
where I live many early cemeteries have disappeared
or been lost to the Missouri River. The state of
Missouri did not achieve 90% statewide registration
of deaths until 1911. Often the funeral notice or
orbituary from the local newspaper is the only
information available on the death (or birth) of an
The role of newspapers in genealogical research is not
limited to vital statistics, however. As Loretto Szucs
says in The Source, "While records of birth,
marriage, and death are the most commonly used and the
most consistently helpful, only the genealogist's
imagination and resourcefulness limit the paper's
usefulness in supplying clues.."1 Newspapers
included advertisements, legal notices, editorial
commments, local news, high school graduation lists,
arrest reports, and "gossip".
A recent article in Family Chronicle mentions other
newspaper resources. Newspapers in port cities often
printed lists of ships that were arriving or departing.
These reports included the ship's name, its captain, the
type of vessel and the port of origin, or in the case of
an outbound vessel its destination. Sometimes the
names of the persons importing the cargo and the cargo
itself were identified. If the ship was carrying cargo
then the names of the passengers might have been
included. Information on ships appeared in a section
of the paper called 'Marine Intelligence."
Other lists might include travellers who were
registered in hotels, newly naturalized citizens or
persons who had unclaimed mail waiting for them at
the post office. In California lists of stage coach
passengers were printed in the newspapers.2 (Around
the turn of the century every little town in this
county had a train station, and travelling by rail
was often the fastest and best way to get to the
neighboring town. The local newspapers gave the
names of those traveling to Corning, or Craig
etc. on the "noon" train.)
Unfortunately most newspapers are not indexed.
Also as Val Greenwood cautions, they are not always
accurate.3 (Although as far as my own research goes
I have found that newspaper obituaries are often more
accurate than census records. Also newspapers seem to
be a good place to for those of us who are doing Irish
research to find the county in Ireland where the
immigrant was born. Finding a townland on an obituary
is rare. On the other hand, although I have read that
counties and townlands can occasionally be found on
a census, I have never found a county on a census
much less a townland.)
"Newspapers on Microform" (3 vols) tells which issues and what newspapers were
published near the town and the time period your are searching in order to
identify the correct newspaper and it can be found on LDS microfilm #1145942.
If none exist, then check for newspapers from the county seat. When you find a
newspaper you are interested in, read the source code that is a "key" to where
the microfilm is available. From the source code determine the name of the
organization that has the microfilm and make arrangements for an interlibrary
loan request at your local library.
It can be difficult to locate old newspapers for
genealogical research. The Ayer Directory is useful in
locating newspapers which are still being published.
Both Emily Croom's The Genealogist's Companion &
Sourcebook and Ancestry's The Source have long lists of
further sources. (See my Bibliography) This is just a
very abbreviated list:
American Newspapers, 1821-1936: A Union List of Files
Available in the United States and Canada, Winifred
Gregory, ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1937.
The Ayer Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals,
Philadelphia, N.W. Ayer and Sons, annual.
Brigham, Clarence S., History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. 2 vols., Worcester, Mass., American Antiquarian Society, 1947.
Newspapers in Microform, United States, 1948-1983,
Washington D.C., Library of Congress, 1984, 2 vol..
Resources on Line
The internet can be a helpful tool in locating newspaper archives.
The State Historical Society of Missouri has the largest collection of
state newspapers in the country. There is a description of their holdings online
The Special Collections Section of the Kansas City Public Library is putting selected clippings from Kansas City
newspapers up at their website. http://www.kcpl.lib.mo.us/sc/clips/newsclips.htm
HomeTown Free Press
provides links to local newspapers around the
world. Just click the world region you want; then hone down to find
the specific location that interests you. The USA section logically
organizes the links by state and then lists links alphabetically by
city. The USA page also includes a link to an index of college and
university Web sites.
In addition to using the internet to locate archived
newspapers so that you can peer at the them through the
microfilm and fiche readers readers that we genealogists
are so attached to, (smile) you can actually find some
historic newspapers on line. I have spent the past few
months researching the Irish Famine, and have found an
incredible amount of online material. Below you will
find a link to newspapers published during the famine.
When researching a historical topic, don't forget to
check modern newspapers for information on your subject.
A special famine supplement which ran in the St. John's,
British Columbia Times Globe is on the web. In the
course of researching this project I searched on
"famine" at the Dublin Irish Times website
and found some interesting material
Views of the Famine
Excerpts from newspapers published during the famine.
It is fairly easy to locate online newspapers. I am going to cover finding newspapers on the web in some detail later. Unfortunately it is difficult to tell what information a given online newspaper contains (just like offline newspaper sources) without actually visiting the website. To a certain extent search engines on the web are helpful in solving this problem. However, I still think there is an incredible amount of information online that we researchers are missing.
While working on this project I made some really fortuitous (and accidental) "finds". I found a link to the Kansas City Star at Cyndi's Site and realized that the Star was not in our bookmarks.. When I went to the site I noticed a link "digital history":
The Digital History Project contains local history pages created through the combined efforts of Missouri and Kansas schools and local history groups.
On to what Marthe Arends, our instructor, calls "the ploy". I am not going to duplicate Marthe's instructions here since her lessons are her property. Members of Marthe's class and other VU classes are not supposed to post VU material on other websites or duplicate it for any other use. The original technique is not new to those involved in genelogical research. It is the ploy "honed to razor sharpness" that is unique to Marthe. VU is in the process of contructing a free web site. Eventually we may be able to link to Marthe's lesson here.
Genealogists have long used newspapers to locate living relatives in the area their ancestors came from. You can of course place a classified ad. They are inexpensive, and if you include enough information to identify the famiily you are seeking, you might get a response. It is even better to get your query placed in the letters to the editor column. Most sources I checked agreed that you are more likely to get your letter placed in a weekly rather than a daily newspaper.
Basically the homework that got me so excited was using the web to locate newspapers in a geographical area that we were interested in. I really didn't find what I was looking for at first. I did enjoy the assignment and bookmarked the sites that were included in the lesson. I emailed my study group the sites I had found, and told them I thought it was a fun project, but that I didn't find that much of benefit to my own research. However, the more I thought about it the more determined I became to find some papers that
could have potential value for my own genelogical research. I kept finding more and more newspaper indexes. Here is the list of sites I eventually accumulated. Remember you might have to visit several indexes before you locate a paper of interest. Also some links at a particular site might not be working.
I find it easier to move to another index than to go to a search engine, and find the new URL Although I do have a favorite, The Ultimate Collection of Newslinks. You might also want to check Cyndi"s newspaper page http://www.cyndislist.com/newspapr.htm
Editor && Publisher
U.S. Newspaper Program National Union List
The Ultimate Collection of News Links
AJR News Link
My Virtual Newspaper
Next I located some newspapers in the United States where I might try to contact long lost relatives. For example my maternal anestors came from Morristown, TN. I want to start searching on my maternal lines when I get done with my Irishmen (If I ever get done with my Irishmen!). I used a newspaper index (The Ultimate Collection of Newslinks), and found the folowing paper.
The Morristown Tn Citizen Tribune
(classified ads and an email address where you can contact the newspaper)
Irish National Newspapers on Microfilm
Norman Ross Publishing Inc. for 18th and 19th century
Irish newspapers on microfilm from the British Library
Irish Newspapers and Journals at Memorial University of Newfoundland
Newspapers at The National Library of Ireland
Irish Media Contacts
OnLine Papers - Ireland
Irish Regional Newspapers Online - RMBI Irish Newspapers Media Bureau
I found a number of Irish newspapers.. I am just going to discuss the ones that have the most value for genealogical research. However, no matter whether the editor welcomes genealogical material or not, the newspaper is not going be of much help in locating living relatives if it is a County Cork regional newspaper and your ancestors came from County Antrim. You can find a map of Ireland at:
Most sites will tell you what their circulation is and what area they cover. Remember you will probably have a better chance of getting your letter printed in a provincial newspaper (especially a weekly publication). However I have included links to some large national dailies with a wide circulation because they include some items of interest to Irish genealogical researchers.
The Western People (County Mayo)
The Western People is another weekly. They have put their obituaries on line. A Fianna member has actually had letters published in this paper! Three stars!!
The Mayo NewsObituaries online
The Connaught Telegraph (County Mayo)
The Munster Express
Classifeds, The X-Waterford Pages with names and email addresses,
The Limerick Post
(A Limerick Newspaper! One of the reasons I kept on searching through newspaper indexes)
If you click on the link at the bottom of the page you can go to E-News Clare
The Clare Champion
Another regional weekly. They have a "Times Past" column.
A weekly tabloid published in Tralee, County Kerry. Obituaries for Kilkenny, also.
Cork Examiner and Evening Echo
covers Cork and Limerick. Address:
The Nationalist and Leinster Times
A South Leinster Newspaper - Carlow, Kildare, and Laois
The Belfast Telegraph
The Irish News
There is a Family Notices Page here, but it is devoted to memorials, obituaries, funeral notices, sympathy notes, (which is of course of some genealogical value) After searching on the site, I was leaving when I noticed a small link at the bottom of the page "messages". There is a message board on the site. You could post a query here.
South Dublin County
The Limerick Post
The Galway Advertiser
classifieds, letters to the editor (these seem to be mostly about local affairs or politics)
The Irish Independent Online
The Irish Times (Dublin)
Probably not a good spot for the ploy, but there is an Irish Language page. (Those of us who are trying to pick up some Gaelic via the web could practice here.)
1. Szucs, Loretto Dennis, "Newspapers", The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Arlene Eakles and Johni Cerny, ed. Ancestry Publishing Company, Orem, Utah, 1984, p. 407.
2. Carr, Peter, "Old News is Good News", Family Chronicle Magazine, Sept/Oct, 1997. pp. 41-43.
3. Greenwood, Val D., The Researchers Guide to American Genelogy 2nd Edition, Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. Baltimore, Maryland, 1990, p. 145.
Carr, Peter, "Old News is Good News", Family Chronicle Magazine, September/October, 1997.
Croom, Emily Anne, The Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook, Better Way Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1994.
Everton Publishers, email@example.com, "How Newspapers Can Help with your Research", Online. http://www.everton.com/oe3-18/papers.htm, 1997.
Greenwood, Val D., The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy 2nd Edition, Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, 1990.
State Historical Society of Missouri, "Using Newspapers for Genealogical Research", Online.URL. http://www.system.missouri.edu/shs/newspap.html. Accessed 24 February 1997.
Szucs, Loretto Dennis, "Newspapers", The Source:: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Arlene Eakles and Johni Cerny, ed., Ancestry Publishing Company, Orem, Utah, 1984.
Rosemary Ffolliott has published an Index to Biographical Notices
Collected from Newspapers, Principally Relating to Cork and Kerry,
1756-1827. This "index" is actually a transcription of the complete
notices in alphabetical order. The National Library and the Cork City
Library have copies of this index. It has also been filmed by the LDS.
In the 1997 Clogher Record, one can read abstracts of
Death Notices and Personals for Counties
Monaghan, Fermanagh and Cavan, and Tyrone, 1848-1873
There were advertisements in several Eastern USA newspapers for much of the
18th and 19th centuries. Some have been indexed and are published as
Much like MISSING FRIENDS from the Boston papers,
The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
has published Philadelphia Newspaper Abstracts 1791-1870
which could be of value to many, noting that Philadelphia was a port, or
stepping off point, for immigrants. There are death notices and personals here.
Some of these notices were from persons
in other than Pennsylvania.
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