Guest Article by Kenneth R. Marks, Author of The Ancestor Hunt
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.
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.
So 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!
Now, 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:
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!
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.