The task of researching your ancestors and your family history may be centered on census records, marriage and death certificates, or other records kept by governments and religious institutions. Often overlooked though, is information and stories found in old newspapers. When sifting through old newspaper articles, you may stumble upon articles that mention dates, other family members, or impactful events involving your family.
Other records have great information and shouldn’t be overlooked, but archived newspapers supplement that information and may even help you fill in some of the gaps when other records fall short.
When the usual records are missing data, newspapers can potentially offer a lot of clues that aid in completing your family’s story. You may be able to find dates, names of family members and friends, business associations and colleagues, social standing, volunteer work, community involvement, and much more. Articles such as birth and wedding announcements, and obituaries offer invaluable information to help complete family trees.
Researching newspaper content isn’t only about the data though. Looking through old Ohio newspapers, you may be able to discover stories about your family. You may find stories that illustrate your ancestors’ involvement in the community, or their valiant service in the military.
While names and dates are crucial to family history, stories connect individuals with their history. Reading stories is how one can come to know those who have passed on before. If you don’t know much about your family history, an ancestor mentioned in an old article is a treasure. For those who know their family well and already have stories recorded, newspapers still have something to bring to the table. There may be small local stories that highlight things your ancestor did that aren’t mentioned in journals or other memorabilia that has been passed down.
Before you begin browsing old Ohio newspapers, gather the facts you already have and define your family history research goals.
When looking at the facts you already have, take notice of names, dates, locations, group affiliations, and occupations.
Dates to think of when you are gathering data include, birth and death dates, marriage dates, move dates, military service dates, business opening, moving, or closing dates, date a job was started, important religious ceremony dates, and any other dates related to events you want to know more about.
Names are also very important in searching newspapers. Having names of relatives, friends, mentors, colleagues, bosses, neighbors, or other influential people can help you narrow your search and find stories. You may find stories about your relatives or stories about those who were close to your relatives. Read more
Knowing where your ancestor lived is valuable, but knowing where they worked, what town they gave birth in, or where their relatives resided can also help you. These facts will help you not only discover more stories, but potentially lead you to other information. If you don’t know where they lived, but you know of a city where they worked, visited, or had family, you might be able to find their resident city or even an exact address.
If you know that your great, great grandmother was a nurse in the Cleveland State Hospital, you might be able to find stories about her workplace. She may have even been highlighted in an article about the hospital staff. In addition to stories about the hospital, you may also find bits of information. The writer may have mentioned that your great, great grandmother had six children, but you only have documentation of five. This is a helpful clue that can lead to some research
After you’ve categorized your data, define what you want to find. If you are looking for stories, great! Just search with keywords that will direct you to the kind of stories you want to learn. If you are looking for more data to find more relatives, that is also great! Use the data you have to search for records that will give you more data.
There is a wealth of great family history knowledge available in newspapers, but how can you find it? Start your search with family names. If your ancestor has a unique name, you might more easily find information. This type of search is really broad, so often, you have to dig a little deeper. Add dates to narrow your search. Adding date ranges that encompass important events may help you find information relating to marriages, deaths, business ventures, military events, or religious recognitions.
Searching with dates is great, but you can narrow it down even further. Adding keywords to your research will give you even better results. Search with keywords related to your ancestor’s connections and affiliations. Adjust your keywords to align with some of the following article types.
Family history requires dedicated research, but knowing how to research simplifies the process. When searching the Ohio Newspaper Archives, keep these tips in mind.
If you have a date or date range in mind, increase the range to account for writing and publication time. For example, if you want to find more information about an ancestor by looking for an obituary, increase the date range to include two weeks following the death of your ancestor.
Instead of tracing a line straight back, don’t be afraid to look into siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and even friends or mentors. Looking at family members to the side will help you learn more of the story, but they also might have their own stories that may have helpful hints about family members in the line you’re tracing.
If you know exactly where your family member lived, it may be tempting to only look for publications in that city. This is a good way to find info, but your ancestor may have been in an organization that had influence in a neighboring town and you will only find that by searching further out.
Sometimes digitized newspapers have mistakes and misspellings. Search for common misspelled versions of your ancestor’s name if you aren’t getting any results. In addition to misspelled names, look for other versions of your ancestor’s name, such as maiden names, middle names, husband’s names, or nicknames.
If your searches are returning too many results, narrow your search criteria. Try searching with more specific data. Narrow your date ranges, add a middle name, or include pertinent keywords.
If you’ve searched all of the logical places, but you still aren’t coming up with anything new, try looking in the less obvious places. A marriage announcement is likely to have parents’ names on there, but you can’t always find a marriage announcement. You may find your answer by looking at a Dean’s list. There you might find an address that you can then use to track down the residents at the address and find the parents of your family member.
An article might state that a relative was 25 at the time of the article, giving a clue to a birthday. It’s possible that it was mistyped and was supposed to be 26. While typos don’t generally pose a huge threat, be open to the possibility of mistakes.