By Emma Whaley Compton, PLCGS
While studying for the American Records Certificate with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, one of my favorite courses included in the program was US: Newspaper Records. If I had to choose a favorite record group for research, it would be newspapers, so it’s perhaps no surprise that I greatly enjoyed this course!
When you think about newspaper research, the most obvious thing that comes to mind is obituaries, which are a wonderful source of genealogical information, particularly if vital records are hard to get or may not even exist for that time period but newspapers offer much more to the researcher than just obituaries. You can frequently find birth, engagement, marriage and anniversary announcements and sometimes court cases, divorces, bankruptcies and real estate transactions will also be included.Then there are the regular newspaper stories or perhaps even photographs that may feature ancestors. Small town newspapers have society pages that give great detail about their inhabitant’s lives, such as who was in the hospital, had visitors from out of town, or may have been out of town visiting relatives, hosting a party or taking part in various club activities. Our ancestors didn’t have Facebook or smart phones, so they got all of their news (or gossip!) through the newspapers and we’re fortunate that many of these day to day records have been preserved and are even becoming accessible over the Internet due to digitization projects.
So newspapers can perhaps help us find out information about our ancestors directly, through announcements and articles but they can also help us understand our ancestor’s lives better through studying social history. What events were happening nationally (wars, recessions) or locally that had an impact on their daily lives? For immigrants, ethnic newspapers helped them keep abreast of what was happening back in their homeland and other specialist newspapers served a similar purpose for religious communities, labor groups or the military.
The US: Newspaper Records course covers all these aspects of newspaper research in much greater detail and also goes into the history of newspapers in the United States. I found this very interesting, it’s surprising to learn how long newspapers have been a part of daily life (and no I’m not going to give that detail away, sign up for the course and find it out yourself!). Perhaps the most important part of this course is that it gives detailed information about how to find newspaper collections on a national and individual state level, so if you’ve always wanted to do newspaper research but didn’t know where to start looking, this should give you some ideas.
Although it’s an advanced level course in the American Records program, this really is a fun course. I knew I’d enjoy it, so I saved this course for last and I wasn’t disappointed. A word of warning though, you may become so immersed in the past when researching in newspapers that whole hours fly by unnoticed!
Bio: Emma Whaley Compton, PLCGS graduated from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in spring of 2014 with distinction in the English and American Record Certificate Programs. A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and Co-President of the Imperial Polk Genealogical Society, she started her own genealogy business, AncesTreeFinder Genealogy Research, early in 2015. When not actively researching or trawling around cemeteries, Emma likes to spend time with her husband and cats, watch TV and movies and read books. Originally from England, she now lives in Lakeland, Florida.