International Institute of Genealogical Studies


International Institute of Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Student Lecture: Newspapers Bring Ancestors Alive

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies course, “Lecturing Skills Including Preparation,” teaches the skills needed to present genealogical-related lectures. It is a “hands on” course where the student presents a lecture via our Virtual Learning Room. We invite you to participate and hear our current students. These are 30-minute lectures, followed by a 10-minute Question & Answer period and a short poll to provide the student with feedback on their skills. Please come and support our students!

Student Lecture: Newspapers Bring Ancestors Alive
Presented by: Arlene Courtney, Ph.D.
Thursday, November 12th – 2 PM Eastern; 1 PM Central; 12 Noon Mountain; 11 AM Pacific; 7 PM in London, England; Friday, November 13th – 6 AM in Sydney, Australia
MEETING LOCATION (Note: “Enter as a Guest”):

Presentation Description: Millions of newspaper pages have been digitized and made available online. We will survey how to access these underutilized resources and demonstrate how they can bring an ancestor alive.

Presenter: Arlene Courtney, Ph.D. is a university professor whose genealogical interests include French-Canadian and Southern States research along with discovering the narratives of our ancestor’s lives.

More information about the Lecturing Skills Including Preparation Course is available here.

Contact information:
1 (800) 580-0165

Newspapers and Your Local News

Local News 

Over the years, local news found in hometown newspapers has run the gambit, from the very serious to news that isn’t necessarily hard-core journalism.


Some of the articles you might find relevant to your genealogy includes: 

  • Family News – Newspapers of the 1800s feature more family news in them than what we find today, with the exception of smaller city newspapers. These articles provide insight into the character and sometimes even interactions between family members.
  • Voter Lists and Tax Lists – Voting and taxation happened more frequently than census enumerations and they can help you determine when your ancestors arrived or moved out of an area. In the case of tax lists, they may help you determine if your ancestor owned land.
  • Jury Lists – Jury lists are not always posted for every trial or group of trials in a given community. In some counties, the jury for the given term was published in the newspaper. The town from which the jurors came from might also be listed.
  • Social News and Events – One thing that appears to be common in most newspapers is the comings and goings of the residents of the town. Learning who is gone to visit family or who is returning from vacation adds to your ancestral timeline.
  • Fraternal Organization News and Events – Our ancestors often joined fraternal organizations. They may have joined one because of their religious beliefs or as a result of their occupation. If you know that your ancestor was involved with the temperance movement in Pennsylvania, then it is possible that he was a member of either the International Order of Good Templars or the Sons of  Temperance, which were both temperance societies.

With our “US: Newspaper Records” course, you will learn more about including newspapers in your research.

Newspapers Offer Insight

Valuable New Stories 

Newspapers give us insight into life as it was during our ancestor’s time. While still driven by advertising, the newspapers of old often held more personal information than we find in today’s equivalent.  


In addition to vital statistic type data you will find that historical newspapers also contain other genealogical relevant information including:  

  • Local News – Depending on the size of the newspaper or the number of towns it covered, you may find that there are separate sections for townships or unincorporated towns near the larger city in which the newspaper is published.  
  • Biographical Sketches and Historical Items – May times you will find biographical sketches of those who have been in a community for a long time. In some instances, the sketch comes as a result of the death of the individual, and as such it is important to remember that such information is sometimes flawed or not completely accurate.  
  • Legal Notices – The courts have long used the newspaper to disperse information. Even today the newspaper is used to publish information from courts about pending cases, unpaid taxed, or attempts to notify heirs in a probate case.  
  • Public Announcements – You will see announcements from individuals who are in essence declaring bankruptcy, by applying to the court for the “benefit of the Insolvent laws.” 
  • Shipping and Business News – The newspapers in port towns would mention arrivals and other shipping news. This may prove useful in your research as you learn which ships arrived at the town or what they brought with them. 

With our “US: Newspaper Records” course, you will learn more about all of the information you can include in your research.

Vital Statistics in Newspapers

Vital Statistics in Newspapers

Vital records are the listings of births, marriage, and deaths recorded for a given town, county or state. The vital records that we seek are a relatively new record, in many instances not coming into existence until the 1900s.


When searching for births marriages, or deaths, the first place that we look is the officially recorded records at the town, county, or state level. One of the problems with these records is that as you go from the more local governments to the state, you will quickly discover that the certificates were not recorded for many years.

Newspapers can fill in gaps, either when the records were not kept or when there was limited information written in the earlier registers. Entries of birth, marriages, and deaths may offer additional information about the family. Unlike the vital records that often include only basic information an in a standard format, newspaper entries are sometimes full of information. Working in newspapers also means looking in a number of different places for the various announcements of birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial.

With the United States: Newspaper Records course you will learn more about what you can discover in your research.

Understanding Newspapers

Do You Understand What You are Reading?

As you begin searching for mentions of your ancestor in the newspaper, you may begin to wonder if you are reading a foreign language. The vernacular or abbreviations that you are reading are the result of the newspaper world, or the general colloquialism of the time.


Abbreviations may be a little more prevalent than you anticipated as a result of the limited typeface of the publisher. Some of these abbreviations may have been encountered in other records including census, vital, land, or probate. Some of the abbreviations were used when there was limited space, perhaps where the vital records announcements might have been included, for instance.  

  • Inst. – is the abbreviation for instant and means that the event took place in that month. 
  • Ult. – is the abbreviation for Ultimo, a Latin word that refers to the past month.  
  • Esq. – which actually comes at the end of the name and is the abbreviation for Esquire.  

Remember that as you are working in older newspapers that the terms are not always the same in meaning as they are now. So, you may find that reading through certain news stories can take a little more time than reading a news story in today’s papers. With our United States: Newspaper Records course, you will learn more research techniques when using these records in your research.