Friday, March 7, 2008

Small Town Newspapers

Small town newspapers are always a family history researcher’s best friend. I’ve been looking through some old copies of one of these publications for any information on my ancestors.

Recently, I found my 2nd great grandfathers obituary published on the front page of a small town paper 80 miles and several large cities north of where he lived. I was extremely surprised to see it in a 'foreign' newspaper.

In days gone by, the population wasn’t as large as it is today and most of the communication was done through newspaper articles. There are numerous unique entries on the pages of these papers that you’d rarely see in print today.

Did someone in town have a birthday party? Yes? Well, she was wearing this dress and got these presents and this is the name and home town of everyone who came to her party. Not only that, but "these" visitors stayed with her overnight and the next day they visited "these" folks and then went to dinner with "these" folks.

Whew! The nitty gritty of their lives was published for review. When someone passed away, had an accident, served in the military, had a good crop or served pie at the church fair, the events were often recorded in the local paper in detail.

I love this type of information in my research. Not only does it give me many facts to add to my records, it also helps me find the married names of daughters and cities of residence of family members. They also provide the much coveted historical ‘color’ that we need to help us visualize our ancestors lives and environment. It is Good Stuff in my opinion.

I noticed that Footnote is putting a lot of small town newspapers on their website and I have spent some time perusing through the current postings. None of the locations have helped in my research this far, but I’m told that many, many more small town newspapers will soon be on the site. I’ll watch them closely over the next few months.

You have to love the uninhibited reporting of the reporters in these newspapers. I laughed at one photo showing a car that had missed turning on either fork of a road and had instead run straight into a big tree. It seems that a fellow was out a little late on Friday night and the ‘soda’ he was drinking with his friends was a little stronger than what he’d been telling his folks. I don’t suppose he was able to concoct a story to off-set the family’s totaled car that was shown in the article, still in its mangled glory.

Make sure you don’t overlook these wonderful newspapers in your own ancestral quest. Odds are you’ll find some information in them about your ancestral family that you’ve dearly hoped to find for years.