Whether you are just starting or have been working on your family tree for while, you might think there are no interesting, fascinating or intriguing stories about your relatives. The real life facts are that every family tree does have interesting stories about their ancestors — it is just a matter of uncovering them. Most of the time family tales have been suppressed over the years.
Start with the Federal and state censuses. There are names, ages, and where a relative lived, but also look at the amount of schooling they had, their occupations over the decades, the number of children a woman had and how many as of 1900 were still living. Note the differences in spelling of given and surnames, or the use of a nickname or the middle name over the years.
Then see if you can in your collection or another relative is holding journals, diaries, postcards, letters, scrapbooks, baby books, family Bibles or any other papers. Really re-read any of these items, make notes and do some comparison.
The overall best source to finding out those family tales is the local hometown newspapers. Every bit of social, criminal or misconduct was put in the newspaper, especially the smaller a town was. However, even larger cities carried such news articles on its residents.
Sources for the newspapers include the free Library of Congress ‘Chronicles of America‘ with a wide range of newspapers from across the country, small town or large city and different time frames. It is easy to use and remember to try a variety of surname spellings and locations.
Visit your library or state archive (including their online sites) to scroll local papers on microfilm. Contact a hometown museum, many keep files with newspaper clippings, photos and stories of their residents.
If a relative was in the military service, see if any records exist for them in the National Archives. Reviewing especially the older military pension records can produce some interesting information.
Lastly ask questions of older family members as to any family legends or stories. They might not know a good deal or details but it might be enough that you now have a starting point to investigate further, especially using newspaper articles.
Photo: Newspaper article from Aug. 1908 fire that affected a couple relatives in Hanover, PA
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