Why You Should Be Searching Historic Newspapers Right Now

Guest Article by Kenneth R. Marks, Author of The Ancestor Hunt 

Why You Should Be Searching Historic Newspapers Right NowI have been researching my family history (and writing about it) for over 15 years and 5 years, respectively.)

It is my opinion that of all the resources and records available to research, newspaper articles are the most important, because of the richness and variety of their content.

Newspaper articles serve a dual purpose. One is that you can discover family relationships through obituaries, marriage announcements, birth announcements, etc. The second purpose is that you get a chance to discover family stories through articles about your ancestors. Crestleaf has in the largest size type on their home page, “Every Family Has A Story” and newspapers serve that purpose exquisitely.

Discovering Family Relationships Through Newspapers

Please follow this example and see how much a part newspaper articles played in discovery of a family’s relationships.

I had found my great, great grandfather Louis Marks early on (via a census record), but knew nothing of his siblings, parents, etc. As is often the case, Louis was the one who immigrated to America first and so his parentage became significantly more difficult to discover. And also was identifying his brothers and sisters.

I began to get some hints and clues that he had a brother Emil. About 5 years ago I had found a newspaper clipping about an Emil Marks, who had been hit by a train and was killed in Oakland, California.

Accidental Death in the News

I had an inkling that Emil and Louis were brothers. From a naturalization log and their naturalization index cards from 1864, they were suspiciously next to each other in the log, had the same naturalization date and had the same witness at their naturalization “hearing.”

And a couple of years later, I found an entry in the 1875 San Francisco City Directory, which discusses a company named “Louis Marks and Bro” and cites both Louis and Emil. Evidence, not proof, but certainly enough for me at that juncture to claim their brotherhood.

So now we have brothers Louis and Emil.

A few years later, I received an email from Scott Harris, a descendant of Fanny Lust . He had found a newspaper article that stated that Fanny was suing the railroad company as she was handling the estate of Emil Marks. Scott had surmised that maybe he and I were related and asked me if I thought that possibly Emil and Fanny were brother and sister. He had heretofore not known anything about Emil or Louis.

Fanny-LuskSo through a bit more research, including the California Death Index — where that index states the name of the deceased’s parents as well as the maiden name of the mother — it was discovered that Fanny’s maiden name was indeed “Marks” and thus it was likely that Emil and Fanny were brother and sister. Of course they could have been cousins as opposed to siblings. Fanny’s Death Certificate was ordered and it showed that her maiden name was Marks and that her father’s name was Isaac Marks.

But the story doesn’t end because of…a newspaper!

We have a lot of clues and what some might call evidence, but nothing really that ties Emil, Louis and Fanny together a little more tightly. That is, until I later found an obituary in the newspaper and it was for Emil — and it was a fantastic find!

Emil Marks Death NoticeNow, this obituary confirms the brotherhood of Emil and Louis, but who are Mrs. S Lust and Mrs. I Schudmack — their sisters? Well we know from many types of records that have been accumulated that Fanny was married to Simon Lust, who coincidentally was also killed by a train. And oh, by the way, Emil and Simon were business partners in the 1860s as we later discovered.

But who is Mrs. I. Schudmack? Another sister.

So, Lottie Marks Schudmack was discovered –- only via a newspaper article. Do you see how old newspaper articles are a thread through all of this research and how critical they are to establishing these relationships?

Discovering Family Stories Through Newspapers

If you are like me you didn’t know who your great grandparents’ siblings were and anything about your family history because your elders didn’t talk about it. The only way then was to get to the stories of your ancestors via historical newspaper articles –- period!

And I have been so intrigued by researching old newspapers over the years that I spend about 90% of my blogging time and subject matter writing about old newspaper research, hoping to help others with techniques to discover their family stories.

Examples of Headlines from Old Newspaper Articles

Here are some examples of headlines from old newspaper articles about my ancestors. You need to know that before I found these articles, I had no clue who these people were and certainly no clue as to the details of the stories described in these articles:

He Died Alone Newspaper ClippingA great, great uncle took morphine to kill himself because he owed his in-laws money that he had squandered playing the Chinese lottery in 1895.

Samuel Braunhart My great, great uncle was a San Francisco politician who committed this offense in 1899.

Must Answer to Charge Newspaper ClippingIn this case, another great, great uncle essentially pimped out his step-daughter and was convicted.

Shoots Man Old Newspaper ClippingYet another great, great uncle was shot at because the buyers of his pool room business weren’t making any money.

Wahoo Woman Killed in CrashA sister of my great aunt was hit by a train while driving her car.

This is why you must search old newspapers — NOW! 

Above are just the headlines. Besides the usual obituaries and marriage, engagement and birth announcements, I have articles about ancestors who won ribbons at county fairs and lists of relatives who visited spas and hot springs for vacations. Also winners of bridge tournaments, officers and members of lodges, clubs and churches. Articles about magicians, dancers, jazz musicians, and actors –- all who were members of my family. Tons of articles of the human interest variety. You can find the same types of articles for your family.

The message is that I knew none of this before I started researching old newspapers. Because of the articles, I now know something about the lives of these people — not just their birth, marriage and death dates and locations. To me, that is what family history research is all about.

How to Find Old Newspaper Articles Like These

As stated earlier, an abundance of my blogging time on is spent on historical newspaper research. I encourage you to visit the Newspapers Page on my website, The Ancestor Hunt. There you will find 13 lessons to guide you, 50 tutorials, 4 recorded webinars, about 60 articles, and links to over 12,000 online historical newspapers and collections from around the world.

Find out about your ancestor’s stories –- research old newspapers!

About Kenneth:

Kenneth R. Marks is the author of The Ancestor Hunt, which is one of the best resources for historical newspaper research available in the online genealogy community.

3 thoughts on “Why You Should Be Searching Historic Newspapers Right Now

  1. Jo Henn

    I LOVE using historic newspapers in my family history research. I not only find previously unknown family connections, as above, but I get insight into how my ancestors lived (and blog about it). I’ve recently run a 4 part series on multiple decades worth of newspaper articles found on my great-grand-aunt Myrtle Bailey, who was a missionary to China during some very exciting times. I also found articles referring to committing my second great- grand aunt Rosa ((Generosa) Henn Strauss to a series of insane asylums and articles about the death of her oldest son in a fight he started which was deemed justifiable homicide, and the death of another son in a fire that consumed much of the downtown (graphic descriptions- ick)., and extensive details about the life of the homesteading family of another great grand aunt made it to their small town Wyoming newspaper . In fact, I’d say historic newspapers are a wonderful way to find out more about my female ancestors and their relatives!

    1. Diane Tortorella

      It seems from this article and from the comment above that the only way you might find a relative in the newspaper is through a tragedy. I found maybe 3 obituaries from the same CT newspaper but that was it. A lot of my early relatives couldn’t afford to have their obits in the paper. Lastly, you have to hope that your particular newspaper is available on line.

  2. Jo Henn

    Not just tragedies. Old small town papers covered everything! I’ve found : Who was visiting whom, who got out of the hospital that day, who attended birthday parties and family reunions, who attended school kids plays, who were in school play, who won the cake baking contest at the local fair, hundreds of entries about who provided the special music at church services, weddings, local election coverage, local sports teams, golden gloves tournaments, union activities write ups, and delinquent tax rolls, legal notices re probate and land sales/evictions, and classified.also single proprietor ads for stores usually mention owner names, and Wyoming newspapers do a page twice yearly listing (with drawings of brand) of every ranchers brand & names of rancher. Probably don’t get this level of detail from big city newspapers but I come from a LONG line of farmers and small town newspapers are fabulous for family history.

Comments are closed.