by Thomas Jay Kemp, NewsBank’s Director of Genealogy Products
People just beginning to research their family history often concentrate on their local newspaper or other newspapers published in their state. This is a sensible way to begin—but it is only a starting point. Many beginning researchers think they don’t need newspapers published outside their town, city or state. However, as this article explains, valuable family clues can be found in newspapers published outside your local area; family details can sometimes turn up in the most unexpected places.
Here’s an interesting example from my own experience, one that taught me an important lesson. When I first began researching 46 years ago, I found an obituary about my ancestor Edward Kemp (1863-1926) published in the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s Register (NEHGS Memoirs. January 1928. pp. 103-104).
The obituary said that this Edward Kemp was born in County Cavan, Ireland. That would have been crucial information for my Kemp research at that time—I was trying to figure out where in Ireland my family had come from. But the obituary also said that Edward lived and died in New York City so I erroneously concluded he was not my relative. I thought our family was “only” from Stamford, Connecticut.
It would be years later that I would again find Edward’s obituary in the Register. The second time I recognized him immediately as my cousin. By then I knew that the family was from County Cavan. I stared at that information and wondered—how was it I didn't find this earlier? Then I remembered that I had found it years earlier, but I had tossed it aside because he was from New York City and I thought that was outside the area I needed to search.
This taught me an important Genealogy Tip: Families and individuals move to other parts of the country, and you’re probably not aware of all the places your ancestors lived. They might have ended up in a completely unexpected place, somewhere you would never have thought to look for them. Expand your newspaper research so that you can find your family obituaries, articles, and documents—no matter where in the country these items were published. Don’t assume you only want your hometown newspaper.
Let me give you an example, framed on the type of basic question researchers often ask: “What do you have on Stamford, CT?”
The question should be more precise: “What do you have on my ancestor Grace Stewart, who was born and married in Stamford, CT?”
To track down some answers, I turned to GenealogyBank and began searching its 815 million records.
I began with the known facts:
- Her maiden name: Grace Toms
- Approximate year/place of birth: born about 1896 in Stamford, CT
- Spouse: she married Charles Stewart
- Other information: the rest of the Toms family lived/died in the Stamford area
I immediately ran into two problems:
- Initial searches found lots of results, but not the specific individual I wanted
- Charles Stewart and Grace Stewart are common names
A broad search for Grace Stewart using all of GenealogyBank’s material yielded 4,165 results—that was just too many to sort through to find her:
I then narrowed my search to just the recent Newspaper Obituaries collection to see if I could locate her obituary notice. That cut the number of results down to 170—I could sift through those one by one, but that would still take me quite a bit of time.
I decided to narrow my search still further before examining individual records. At the bottom of the Search Results Page there is another search form that lets you refine your search. I did this by entering “Connecticut” in the Keywords box:
This time, however, I got zero hits.
So I turned to search for her husband: Charles Stewart.
A broad search for Charles Stewart using all of GenealogyBank’s material yielded 51,290 results—many more than for his wife, and way too many to sort through to find him:
Just as I had done with his wife, I then narrowed my search to just the recent Newspaper Obituaries collection to see if I could locate his obituary notice. That cut the number of results down to 735, which I then narrowed still further by entering “Connecticut” in the Keywords box. This turned up one obituary, but it was not the Charles Stewart I was looking for.
All right, let’s try another approach. Family history research is, after all, a patient pursuit. I went back to examining Grace Stewart in the Newspaper Obituaries collection, but this time I added her middle name “Toms” to the Keywords box:
Nothing. Zero hits again.
OK, another try. I added “Stamford” to the Keywords box:
Success! This time I found her:
Clicking on her obituary link brought up the actual document:
It’s a very rewarding feeling when you track down and find the exact ancestor you were looking for! But as this search showed, you have to be determined when researching your family history. Don’t be discouraged if your initial search turns up zero hits. Modify your search a little, refine it, then try again.
And don’t forget the important Genealogy Tip: Families and individuals move to other parts of the country, and you’re probably not aware of all the places your ancestors lived. They might have ended up in a completely unexpected place, somewhere you would never have thought to look for them. Expand your newspaper research so that you can find your family obituaries, articles, and documents—no matter where in the country these items were published. Don’t assume you only want your hometown newspaper.
In the above example, knowing that Grace Stewart was born and married in Stamford, Connecticut, I could have spent countless hours examining all the Stamford papers, or even all the Connecticut papers, without ever finding her obituary. That’s because she ended up living and dying in a place I had no reason to expect: Washington, D.C. But there her obituary was: printed by the Washington Post.
GenealogyBank has powerful search tools that allow you to focus on all the newspapers in one state, one city, or just one specific newspaper—when you have good reason for such a narrow search. In addition, GenealogyBank gives you the ability to search over 5,000 newspapers from all 50 states, because sometimes when a narrowly-focused geographical search won’t do, a broad sweep can turn up unexpected results!
Huge Historical Newspaper Archive at GenealogyBank.com
One of the key sources for online newspapers is GenealogyBank.com. Featuring more than 5,000 U.S. newspapers with over 1 billion names from all 50 states, GenealogyBank is one of the most extensive online historical newspaper archives available anywhere, designed specifically for family history research. Over 95% of our newspaper content is exclusive to GenealogyBank. By providing access to rare and hard-to-find newspapers from 1690 to the present day, GenealogyBank gives researchers the opportunity to discover unique, long-forgotten information about their American ancestors.
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