Newspapers in Family History Research Contain Hidden Gems!
Referencing newspapers in family history research can be very rewarding. Unfortunately, we don’t often think of newspapers as a source when doing family history. You probably know that obituaries can contain a treasure trove of family information, but did you know newspaper articles can also be valuable? I used to think my ancestor had to be famous to be mentioned in a newspaper article. But this is simply not true. Newspapers often included birth announcements, wedding announcements, and insights to daily life. Furthermore, newspapers can provide context to the area, culture, and society in which your ancestors lived.
Let me share just a few examples with you.
Inman Family of North Carolina
Margaret Susan (Inman) Bunch is my ggg-grandmother. She was a convert to the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in February of 1882. At the time she lived near her sister’s family, Catherine (Inman) Gordon. About 20 members of Margaret’s extended family were baptized between January and March of 1882. At the time they lived in and around York, South Carolina. Family records indicate that they were part of the Kings Mountain Branch of the church.
On a whim one day, I decided to performed several Google searches for items related to “Kings Mountain” and early Mormonism. Among the search results was a newspaper article from the Salt Lake Daily Herald from 1882! It was not uncommon for newspapers to list a “roundup” of news articles from around the country that came across the telegraph. This is similar to today’s “Associated Press,” in which newspapers syndicate content for their papers.
Mormon Missionaries in North Carolina
Published March 14, 1882 was the following article that had been originated in North Carolina:
Mormons in North Carolina
Raleigh, N. C. 12. – In Gaston County, this state the people are continuing to have trouble with Mormon missionaries, who are said to have captured King’s Mountain Baptist Church, situated in the battlefield of King’s Mountain, they having made converts of some sixty of the members. Great numbers are flocking to them from the vicinity. Two elders, calling themselves W.C. Burton and J.W. Easton, are engaged in the work of proselyting. They baptize and receive into the Mormon faith, first requiring all converts to pledge themselves to their doctrines. They have no established a regular church there.
This was certainly an interesting article to me. Here we get a flavor of the local sentiment towards Mormons at that time. Although the Inmans lived in York, South Carolina they were very close to the historic Kings Mountain area. In fact, Gaston County, North Carolina is directly over the border from York County, South Carolina as seen in the county boundary map on the left. Furthermore, there is a Kings Mountain township in York County (see map on the right).
In addition to understanding the hostility felt towards members of the Mormon church in this region, I discovered the names of the missionaries that almost certainly baptized my ancestors. All these details provided depth and context to their stories and helped me feel more connected to them. Keep in mind, however, that this little article is a secondary source and does not mention any of my ancestors by name.
Relations of Hyrum Henry Taylor of Vernal, Utah
Another wonderful example of newspapers in family history research involves my gg-grandfather, Hyrum Henry Taylor. A relative of mine recently uploaded transcriptions of dozens of newspaper articles to the Memories section of FamilySearch. These transcriptions were copied from the local newspaper, the Vernal Express. 25 years ago this kind soul (a distant cousin) lived about an hour away from Vernal, Utah. During a two year period she would travel as often as she could to the Vernal Public Library to research family members from this area. She would make photocopies of newspaper articles that contained their names and then take them home and transcribe them.
Here is a sampling of the rich picture we gain from these articles taken from the small town newspaper:
15 Oct 1896
Alma Taylor [father of Hyrum Henry Taylor] is just finished up the elegant brick dwelling house that he has been at work on for some time. Mr. Taylor is an old resident of this Valley and we are glad to see him make such a marked improvement on his ranch.
1 Jun 1901
Taylor Bird [father-in-law of H.H. Taylor] piloted one of the office boys around over his orchard and vineyard grounds one day this week and gave him an idea of the amount of fruit that he is going to have this year. The entire lot of over 1,000 trees are heavily loaded with fruit. In one field there are over 500 apple trees all of which will bear fruit this year and from which last fall he realized $600, most of which came from A.Q. Boan, at White Rocks. Judging from appearances the apple crop this year will be just double what it was last. Mr. Bird’s vineyard is in excellent condition and the vines are heavily loaded with forming grapes. All the small fruit is the same and an enormous yield of fruit is expected.
12 Oct 1901
The largest onion we have received here was raised by Alma Taylor, two miles north of Vernal. It was raised from seed planted in April and tips the scales at even two pounds and is 17 inches around. It is a Yellow Globe Danver. He also sent up a Red Wetherfield that weights 1 3/4 pounds.
1 Nov 1902
A trip to Taylor Bird’s orchard does one’s eyesight good. The writer took a stroll through his orchard last Sunday and we will never again think that this is not good fruit country. Such large, red, rosy apples and the trees fairly loaded with them. In his young orchard of Ben Davis and Gano exclusively, two men were picking and had some 200 bushels sacked and ready for shipment. These trees are eight years old and some of them had six and eight bushels of apples to the tree. Mr. Bird informed us that the late spring frost did not injure his orchard in the least outside of apricots and plums. His crop is now nearly picked and he has between 9 and 9 hundred bushels of apples altogether, which he finds ready sale for $1.50 per bushel. He sold 500 bushels to J.H. Murray.
19 Mar 1909
Uncle Alma Taylor says we must have another good storm before we can look for a real break in the weather. He is about ready to sell out in this valley and go to Arizona or California where it is more warm. He has pioneered for over seventy years and would like to rest awhile.
Using newspapers in family history research yielded tremendous fruit in this case (pun intended!). I would never have thought that seemingly mundane details would be covered in the local newspaper. From these articles I learned that Taylor Reeves Bird had fruit orchards and grape vineyards. Alma Taylor was a cattle rancher also known for his large onions! These few examples represent perhaps 10-20% of all the excerpts my relative found in the Vernal Express. Indeed, newspapers in family history research contained hidden gems for me!
Despite their value, finding historical newspapers online can sometimes be difficult. However, more and more newspaper archives are being digitized and made searchable online. One challenge I have encountered is that the OCR (optical character recognition) software used to turn the digital images into searchable text struggles to properly convert newspapers. Some of the issues involved include:
- Small font sizes
- Multiple fonts on the same page
- Multiple columns on a page
- Advertisements intermingled with news articles and other text
All of these challenges and more make it difficult to do a full-text search on a newspaper that has been digitized. However, the technology exists to get around these problems, if companies want to expend the cost to accomplish this task.
If you want to use newspapers in family history research I recommend you start with the following online resources:
- Elephind.com – Contains access to over 2700 newspaper titles in the US and New Zealand. The purpose of elephind.com is to make it possible to search all of the world’s digital newspapers from one place and at one time. Elephind.com allows you to simultaneously search across thousands of articles using key words and phrases.
- GenealogyBank.com – A subscription site with access to over 7000 newspaper titles from 1690-modern day. A 30-day free trial is available.
- Newspapers.com – Another subscription site (owned by Ancestry.com). A 7-day free trial is available. Over 4400 newspaper titles from the 1700s to today.
- Cyndi’s List (Newspapers) – A comprehensive resource for all things Genealogy. Check out the long list of Newspaper links.
In preparing for this article I tried searching a single search for my gg-grandfather, Henry Zufelt, using the Elephind.com website. The very first link was an amazing article about their five-year-old daughter who had perished in a tragic accident when a barrel of oil was struck by lightning splashing burning oil all over little Emma Zufelt. While reading this story caused my heart to break for that family, I will treasure the 105-year-old newspaper article that preserved that piece of my family history.
What hidden gems have you uncovered using newspapers in your family history research?