Scandalous Newspaper Articles – or Not
Imagine finding an old newspaper article like this about someone in your own family:
Yes, that is what one of the many articles written about poor John Lingard and quickly spread over Indiana back in 1890. (Sorry if this made anyone turn a bit “green around the gills” but you can imagine what one of my research clients thought when I brought her several of these articles about her own Indiana Pioneer ancestor!)
Want to see what is out there hiding in an old newspaper about your own family?
The one thing about looking into your own family history is that I can guarantee that it will never be really dull. If you think that the headlines today are shocking and getting crazier by the day, then you might find a bit of solace in the fact that every generation seems to have had its earth-shaking news. And there might have even been some “fake news” going on back in the good ole days as well.
Old newspapers are dull — I think not!
And what did my client think about this terrible news about her ancestor, John Lingard? After the initial shock wore off, she and her entire family has come to embrace the story. I can only imagine the lively conversations that it has inspired over many family get-togethers. But isn’t that the beauty of family stories? Aha… they bring us closer together and give us something to bond over.
Finding your own stories
My tip for you this month is really more of a challenge. Find an online newspaper and do a Search on one of your ancestors to see what all comes up! There are paid services like NewspaperArchive.com and Newspapers.com as well as free sites such as ChroniclingAmerica which is sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Indiana has its’ own Hoosier State Chronicles, a part of ChroniclingAmerica which at last count contains 124,747 issues ranging from 1804 – 2011. Of course, not all counties and not all the available newspapers have been digitized but it is very exciting to watch more and more come online. If you don’t have ancestors from Indiana, do a Search for “free newspapers” in whatever state you are looking for! Sometimes, even local county libraries take it upon themselves to digitize their newspaper holdings.
Check your local library online services too!
In my Heritage with Michele Scrapaneers Champions course from September, 2017, I do go over a newspaper search that I did on my own family story about how the Buckeye State got its’ name. (And yes, one of my ancestors might or might not have had something to do with it!) In the class, I also explain that I have access to NewspaperArchive.com through my library card and the online portal offered by my local library. You might want to check out your local library and see what is available in their database of online services. Of course, this is available in the library as well and I can also search at my Indiana State Library where they have in-house access to two newspaper services.
In my course, I also bring up the fact that when you do find a story that seems sensationalized, you might want to do a bit of fact checking on your own. It helps to acknowledge that there might be other stories out there that differ from the account that you found. Also, if it is a first-person account, you should also remember that our memories can be a bit fuzzy. I guess the bottom line is that you need to take a family story and newspaper articles with a grain of salt and do some extra research that can back up your newly-found information, especially if it seems a bit hard to believe.
Tips on searching those newspapers online
When looking in an online newspaper service like NewspaperArchive.com, make sure to take advantage of the drilling down feature that they offer. For example, if you want to look for “John Lingard”, I would put his name in and then when the searches come up, I would head over to the right hand side and click on United States and “submit query” and this brings up a list of possible hits in several states within the United States. I would then check off Indiana because I knew he lived there and then also narrow down my years that I want to look for articles as well. Of course, you can narrow things down right away by plugging all this information in at the beginning, but this way, you can see what is coming up as far as articles and narrow down as you go. Either way will work — it’s really a matter of your preference.
Think not so “fuzzy” when searching
Here’s one caveat that I need to mention when you are looking around in newspapers. They don’t use the same kind of search interface that something like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org has available, which is the “fuzzy” kind – meaning that it sees what you are saying and then gives you similar hits. With newspapers, I find that it is exactly what you type in, so if you type in “Silvester” and meant “Sylvester,” you will only come up with answers that fit the “Silvester” search. Likewise, if you are looking for a female’s obituary and type in to search for “Mary Sylvester,” you might miss the obituary totally because it is listed under “Mrs. Sylvester.” By the way, it was very common years ago in newspaper articles to leave off the woman’s first name in favor of her title which included “Mrs.” and her surname.
And one tiny warning
These little nuances shouldn’t keep you from searching though, because the rewards can be very exciting, funny, or yes, even very tragic. That is the other warning that I have for you: Newspapers from years ago did not worry about listing the whole story of how someone met their demise, especially if it was news-worthy(like ingesting a lizard.) While we can find both tragic and extremely happy news, I think that it is something that we can all happily add to our own family lifestories.
Giving our children a strong base of their own
Our children actually benefit from hearing these stories, the good and the bad. It seems to give them a better handle on how they fit into the order of their own lives. And I’m not making this up either… It is all proven. So, as you work on your own family history layouts, sprinkle in those articles. They are fun for the reader to read and actually give a sense of the story being told right at the moment that it is happening.
Love, love, love
As most of you have figured out, I am in the process of finishing my lifestory book and one section follows my father’s parents from their childhood through death. I did a newspaper article search on my grandfather and found several notices of where he would visit his parents back in the days when my own father was just a young boy. It all makes so much more sense now when I think about how strongly my father felt towards his parents, even though they were very strict with him. I could tell from the amount of times that my grandfather made the long trek from Pleasant Lake down to Marion, Indiana in the 1930’s that it had to have been out of a sense of love and family duty. The highways were certainly not what they are today and the cars weren’t either, but this didn’t stop him from making the trek down to visit his parents.
If I had never seen those small articles, (and I would have never taken the time to scan the newspapers by myself) I would have missed this really heart-warming part of my grandfather’s life — a part of it that helped to play an important role in forming the man my father would become.
Take advantage of the search capabilities that open up those dusty newspapers of the past!