Ancestors have a long trail of documents from birth to death which can greatly assist the researcher. Most come from government agencies; either federal, state, county or city. There are also church records along with civic and fraternal organizations where information can be gathered on relatives.
One of the great gold mines with a wealth of information on individuals is the local newspapers. This is especially true if the ancestors lived in a small town or community which had only one or two newspapers. They needed news to fill and sell the papers and one of the best sources were the ordinary activities of its citizens.
There would be the traditional listing of births, engagements, marriages and deaths appearing in the newspapers, usually with quite a few details. In marriage announcements, great care would be taken to describe details of the parents of the couple, who attended, where the ceremony took place, the occupation of the groom and what the bride wore.
With newspapers needing to fill their pages, other social events of its readers would be written. Whenever, guests came to visit from out-of-town, or an individual was traveling on business or pleasure, or a party was given or someone was ill, the newspaper write-up would appear.
When beginning to look at newspapers, check the local public library even in your own hometown. Many libraries have on microfilm newspapers from other cities. If you can go to the county where an ancestor lived you have to check out what that local library has for newspapers. Many newspapers are now being made digital and appearing online. This makes it much easier using an index to find an ancestor’s name from thousands of articles.
Besides the locality where your ancestor lived, remember to check newspapers from neighboring areas. For example, if there was a relative who lived in Manchester, Carroll County, Maryland in the late 1800s it would be worth checking Westminster and Frederick. The town of Manchester had its own newspaper, but many times some news items also appeared in nearby Westminster, Maryland or even in Frederick, Maryland which was some 20 miles away.
Other interesting items in a local newspapers where the ancestor lived would be the general community events that the ancestor may have participated in. There was always an article when special entertainment like the circus, theater performers, rodeos or parades took place. The local stores and business advertised in the newspaper, so that would give the researcher a good idea what the price of various goods would have been for the ancestor.
Finding a newspaper photograph would be very fortunate for a researcher. Since the use of photographs in newspapers did not appear regularly until the early 20th century, there might be a drawing or sketch of a person, a landmark in the town, or a business.
Taking the time to read some of the local news of the hometown of an ancestor offers an insight in that relative’s life. The concerns of health, economics, immigration or even wars can make for some fascinating information to help better understand one’s ancestors.