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Find Your Own Piece of History in Canadian Newspapers

Searching your family history is part historical research and part detective work–one good piece of information can provide several solid leads and fill in a lot of blanks. Canadian historical newspapers can be veritable treasure troves for this. They can help you fill out your family tree, discover distant relatives, and find other important clues about where you came from.

There are many different sources for quality historical and family history information. If you haven’t considered searching old Canada newspapers to fill in some of the blanks in your research, it’s time to give them a try!

What Can You Learn From Canadian Newspaper Archives?

Delving into newspaper archives can turn up some very good information if you search in the right way. Just about every section has the potential to provide important details.

Wedding announcements can give you the date and place that a marriage took place, but they can also give you the spouse’s information as well as family names. Typically the bride’s and groom’s parents are named in the announcement. If you’re lucky, they may even name the grandparents.

Birth announcements can give you birthdays and parents’ names while death notices give you the date of death.

Of course, everyone knows that obituaries are great resources since they typically name most of the immediate family. But you can also pick up clues about organizations they belonged to if they served in the military, where they worked, and the names of friends and family.

There’s more though. Public notices, court cases, legal notices, and church announcements can also point you in the right direction to gather information on certain family members as well as extended family.

You can find out when your family immigrated to the US from Canada or immigrated to Canada by researching ship passengers lists. Military lists and military news can give you dates and places as well as some pretty cool stories.

Sometimes it’s just that one little obscure piece of information, a picture, a news story, a police blotter that reignites your research and fills in key pieces of vital information.

Perhaps you are looking for your great grandmother’s parents. You have searched everywhere and you are just hitting a wall. Then you search Canada newspapers and hit paydirt with a news story about a new business or a news story about a burglary where your relative was the victim. The information you can get from a seemingly innocuous source takes you down several different family tree branches where you discover more family than you knew you had.

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Tips for Searching Canadian Newspapers Online

When you are searching Canadian newspaper archives online to discover your family history, keep these tips in mind.

  • Don’t limit your search to only looking at papers in your relative’s hometown. Good news stories often get picked up by other newspapers in other areas, especially if the person once lived there or the story itself is worthy of national attention. You can also check in other cities where your relative lived or where their relatives lived.
  • Don’t think linear in your search. Instead of only looking at your direct ancestors, expand your search by looking at their siblings and in-laws, aunts and uncles, cousins, and other family members.
  • Don’t be afraid to narrow your search. If you are getting a flood of unrelated or irrelevant results, try bringing your search more into focus. Provide the name of the city or the middle or maiden name for more relevant results.
  • Don’t be afraid to expand your search. If you aren’t getting as many results as you would like, expand your search. For instance, you can go from a city name to the county, or use just the first and last name and omit the middle name.
  • Don’t forget to use different spellings of the last name. Sometimes a person’s name was written down wrong or recorded wrong and even if you are looking for Peters, it may be listed somewhere as Paters. Subtle changes can give you the results you want. Also, remember that many women use “Mrs. Husband Name” instead of their own. This was very prevalent in earlier times. For instance, Molly Brown might list herself as Mrs. Christopher Brown. Make sure you check all possible ways.
  • Don’t limit your search to a specific date. Many times a small city newspaper won’t publish an announcement or story for several days or even weeks. Search several weeks after the event or incident and you might find what you need. Read more

A Successful Search Begins with Assembling Your Facts

When you get ready to search Canadian newspapers to discover your family history, the first thing you want to do is assemble your facts. While it may be tempting to keep all of your research and discoveries online, it may be a good idea to also have a hard copy.

This can be a notebook or folder with all the names, dates, information, and associations so you can construct search terms and verify new information when you find it.

It is a good idea to have one person to a page. List their full name at the top, then any other names or surnames that they used as well as their spouse. Follow this with date and place of birth then the date and place of death, then date and place of marriage.

Next, list the children along with their dates of birth, then the person’s parents and siblings.

If they served in the military, list the branch, enlistment dates, places where they were stationed, and when they were there. If you know they had a business or worked in a certain industry, list that too.

If you know the dates when they lived in certain areas, list that information. In other words, do a complete bio on each person that you are searching so you can compare dates and places and confirm accurate information as you find it.

Keep a pen handy so you can jot down notes and keep a flash drive with you so that you can download pieces of information that you find. If you can’t directly copy it, you can typically do a screenshot – just make sure the note the publication name and the date.

Things to Look for in Canadian Newspapers

When you are doing your detective work, make sure you look all through the paper. Don’t confine your research to only the “obvious” sections like wedding announcements and obituaries, other sections usually have a lot to offer as well.

Search all the sections in the appropriate time frame. You never know what might pop up.

You can also focus your search on specific areas as well. For instance, if you know your grandfather was in World War II, you can search Canadian World War 2 newspaper articles and you might find something that gives you the information that you need. If your relative was involved in local politics you may find information in city council meeting minutes. If they had children in school or were interested in education, school board minutes might turn up some good stuff too.

The point is to look in the obvious places, then look in the not so obvious places because you just never know.

Some great sections to look at in Canadian newspapers include:

  • Marriages and Wedding Announcements
  • Anniversaries
  • Business Announcements
  • Death Notices
  • New Businesses or Business Openings
  • Funerals
  • Military Lists
  • Obituaries
  • News from Soldiers
  • Birth Announcements
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Accidents and Car Wrecks
  • Hotel Guest Lists
  • Advertisements
  • Estate Settlements
  • Honor Rolls
  • Probate Notices
  • Dean’s Lists
  • Foreclosures
  • Attendance Rolls
  • Bankruptcies
  • Graduations
  • News Stories
  • Teachers
  • Elopements
  • School Board Meetings/Minutes
  • Legal Notices
  • Unclaimed Letters
  • Public Auctions
  • Personal Notices
  • Public Sales
  • Meeting Minutes (county, city, etc.)
  • Real Estate Transactions
  • Social Announcements
  • Jury Lists
  • Club Announcements
  • Community Highlights
  • Classified Ads
  • Court Dockets
  • Organization Events
  • Court Filings
  • Class Reunions
  • Church News
  • “Old Settler” meetings
  • Church New Members
  • Community School Events
  • Slave Runaways
  • Tax Lists
  • Indentured Servants
  • Tax Delinquencies
  • Political Events
  • War Time Volunteers
  • Police Blotters
  • Biographical Sketches
  • Ship Arrivals
  • Local Business News
  • Train Schedules

Searching Canadian newspapers to find long lost family members, find key historical information, or just to get a better understanding of your family history is a very rewarding activity. Just remember to be thorough and think outside of the box because that is how you will get the best results.