This is posted as information for anyone attending my session on newspaper research at the LDS Tri-Stakes family history seminar, October 14, 2006 in Surrey, B.C.
NEWSPAPER RESEARCH FOR FAMILY HISTORIANS
IN A HURRY TO LEARN ABOUT A PARTICULAR EVENT?
1. Is there a searchable newspaper database that covers your area? No? Then check to see where film or bound copies are available & ask if there are local indexes or clipping files---search on-line & contact the local library, genealogical & historical societies. No luck? Post a query on your locality’s genealogical mailing lists. Someone may be working on a local index.
2. Read at least 10 days before & after the event, if you can. Look at the paper’s publication pattern---two weeks may only include four newspapers, if a semiweekly. Always keep track of the dates you’ve searched with the items found & cite your sources---note the front of page copies with source details.
3. Look all through each issue---a birth, marriage or death could be covered as news, as a social event, or in advertising. Watch for interesting associations--- what was the weather like the day your grandmother was born? Were there ads for baby clothes that month or was concern expressed about infant deaths?
4. Searching electronically? Remember searches can’t always ‘read’ your key words. Try different combinations of search queries, not just one. Watch your language! It could be “girl’s hockey” or “ladies’ curling”, not” women’s hockey” or “women’s curling”. And remember, interesting articles could be reprinted coast to coast---don’t just search one newspaper.
5. Copy your find exactly as you see it in the paper. Don’t abbreviate or paraphrase. Check any words you don’t recognize or remember.
HAVE MORE TIME?
6. Didn’t find your event the first time? Check to see if there were other newspapers in the surrounding area or urban paper coverage. Might your event be covered in a non-English or specialized paper? Still no luck? Especially for a wedding or death (or even a birthday if you know the person involved was prominent or lived to an advanced age), read the newspapers for a week or ten days around a significant anniversary of the event. For deaths & marriages, check classified ads for anniversary & memorial notices.
7. Read over an issue or two first to see what’s usually included (& what’s not) & to get a feel for the paper’s layout. You will see more in the paper if you’re prepared. Check local histories for information about the Editor or newspaper owners & to see if any special issues are mentioned, perhaps for a town incorporation or centennial.
8. Don’t neglect letters to the editor, municipal notices & the classified ads. Auction notices, building permit lists, tax sales, legal notices & rewards offered for lost articles or fines assessed for stray animals could provide valuable information. Ads from merchants in other towns could mean that these places had closer economic & social ties then than now. Articles on world issues & events will give you a sense of what people may have been talking about.
9. Even if searching in a rural area, always check to see if an urban paper covered rural issues or province wide activities, for e.g. the Vancouver papers often list all B.C. high school graduates.
10. Write down your ideas for following up the information you’ve found. Was there a legal notice about an estate? You will want to check for a will & probate file. Don’t believe everything you read in the paper!
And, consider sharing the information you’ve found. Write an article for a genealogical journal, or post your new information on a locality or surname message board or at one of the volunteer websites.