Effective Every Day Newspaper Research

I love newspapers!  I can get lost in newspaper research looking for my ancestor and trying to discover something new about them. I research newspapers nearly every day. I will be sharing some of my insights in this blog and soon in videos. Have a newspaper hint? Share it with me in the comments below.

Looking at newspapers in December and January is one of the best sources for details of all the goings on in your family’s neighborhood.  Even if I don’t find my relative’s name, I often discover things about his relatives, town, county, industry, or profession.  I thought I would share some considerations from a recent search.  A hundred-year-old article from the January 17, 1924 edition of the Eldon Advertiser of Eldon, Missouri listed fishing and hunting permits issued in 1923 by the County Clerk to citizens of Morgan County.  I like to wring every detail from a source.  What can we discern from this story?  Below are my “takeaways.”  Do you have any to add?

  1. What Happened? Sometimes you can find your ancestor’s name in the newspaper for something mundane he/she did last year. Those items often appear in December or January.
  2. Locality. The source might be in a contiguous county or state.  Eldon Missouri is in Miller County, east of Morgan County, where my grandparents lived.
  3. Ask Not Why. Newspapers need content.  They often get it from other sources, many of which are in the same area or would be of general interest to their readers but sometimes they include seemingly random details that can be useful as indirect information.
  4. What Name? Pay attention to how the name is listed – especially if it is a legal source.  While not always the case, if someone sought a license or permit at the courthouse they were (at least in theory) more likely to use their legal name.  My grandfather Carl C. Siegel was often referred to with other versions of his name: Charles/Charley/Chas/C.C. Siegel.  I have a list of variations of first and last names of my ancestors and I pull out that list when I do searches.
  5. Who Else Is There? What other names can I recognize? Do they bear any relation to my grandfather?  This list is tricky, because there are tons of names that are familiar.  There are a few other relatives (cousin Harold Siegel & uncle F.H. Siegel), some “other line” Siegels who are not direct relatives (O.E. Siegel), family friends/neighbors include (A. F. Oehrke and Glenn Mertgen).  They may or may not be relevant.  In this instance, they likely are chronologically listed in order they sought the permit.
  6. Novelty of Change? I have to wonder if hunting and fishing licenses was a new requirement and thus might have made the list “newsworthy” in 1924.  News often follows changes in laws or regulations.

Analyzing the source of information can lead to other ideas and fill in some of the details of a life. 

What do I know about my grandfather’s life in 1923-24?  In the early 1920s Carl was a widow with three young boys.  His sister moved in with him to help care for the children after the death of his wife in April 1919.  Carl moved into the town of Florence and bought a house and the general store in 1921.  Running the store was a seemingly round-the-clock job so I have often wondered when he (and later he, my grandmother Roma and the boys) slept.

Carl had grown up on a farm in rural Morgan County and had a hunting rifle.  I have several pictures of Carl fishing so I know he liked to fish.  I don’t remember picture of hunting but I’m sure he did that too. 

The additional information from this list in the newspapers is not a revelation but it did make me think about Grandpa and what his life was like in 1924.  I hope you will use this example to go huntin and fishin in your tree too!

2 thoughts on “Effective Every Day Newspaper Research”

  1. Unfortunately Grandpa passed before I was around. My fishing experiences at Roma’s ponds (down from the house and up on the hill by Brodersen’s house were with Mollie & Edgar Smethers and my paternal grandparents Ellis & Grace Spencer.
    My most vivid memory is the day after Roma’s death. Mom, Dad and I stayed at the farm. Dad and I went fishing at the pond just down from the house. Don’t remember what we caught, but I remember it was a nice escape!
    I sure miss mushroom hunting tho! I love morels!

  2. Michelle- did grandpa take you down to the pond to fish for crappie and sun perch ? Sure he did ! Then grandma Roma would fry ‘em up!
    If the right time, we’d have morels too..

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