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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 7, Number 7
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
April 15, 2015
Publisher's Notes
In this article we discuss using the newspapers to find out information about your ancestors. It might find birth, marriage or death notices in the paper. You never know when you might find out some interesting information about your family. Newspapers can be difficult to find and take a tremendous amount of time to read, but they are filled with interesting tidbits.
We will be at the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society Spring Seminar on April 18th at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. We would love to see you there! For more information, click here.
Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press
The daily newspaper is used for many things around the house - to line the bird cage - to wrap up the garbage - to wrap ‘stuff’ going into the attic, etc. They are so common that we forget that they can be useful as a research tool. In my early days, I went through my grandmother’s attic and found there hundreds of clippings of obituaries with no dates, poems and receipts. Most of this mess was in boxes and loose, sometimes I would find them inside books and especially the family Bible. We are all guilty of clipping articles out and that is as far as we go with the project. Seldom are the dates put on any article, especially the obituaries, and that is such a pity.
In our genealogical research, the newspapers are some of the last resources that we consult primarily because we are not sure if there is anything in them. It is a daunting task to research the newspapers. We have to understand that newspapers have been around since almost the beginning of our nation and even earlier in other countries. The good news is that almost all of the earlier versions of the newspapers were only printed once a week or even every two weeks. Even then they contained only about four pages for a full edition which was one sheet folded to make the four pages. The earlier the paper, the smaller the area of search. The good news is that most states have made an effort to collect copies of all of the newspapers for that state and many of these are on microfilm or available online. You might want to check with your state archives or the archives of the state of interest to check out their collection. If that fails, then try the Department of Journalism at the state university. Most of these groups have some type of collection.
Let’s look at our choices of newspapers. The early ones covered a wider area than just the local area of printing. Many of these earlier newspapers were copied again and again by smaller printers in other areas. You might find something about Virginia in a New York paper. This is due to the commerce of the times. The northern industrial areas need the raw materials from the southern states, and therefore, the events of one section had importance in the other. Printing equipment was and still is very expensive, so few could afford the equipment. Even Ben Franklin had trouble keeping up with the latest equipment. One thing to look for in these early newspapers is the personal columns. This is where the births, deaths and marriages will be found even in those days. Gossip has been a source of interest for a long, long time.
Now let’s turn our attention to the harder newspapers to find, the local papers. In many of the early cities a small printing press was transported over land to fill the need for a newspaper. The local editor did most of the writing, editing and even printing. He or she would also have to get out on the street and hawk their papers to get them sold. This is why many of them have been lost. These small pages found themselves in the garbage or glued to the walls of a room to keep out the cold air from seeping in through the cracks in the cabin. People quickly found that newspaper made a fair insulation. I can remember my mother-in-law using the newspaper to cover up with when she took her Sunday afternoon nap, it does work.
Locally, there might be county newspapers, city newspapers or even later on community newspapers. Every paper has their place in history and each of them record the same story but differently because of differing interest of the readers. In a local newspaper here, I found an item, “We see that John Kell is wearing a 20 x 30 foot grin.” I was interested since John Kell was my wife’s grandfather, but what is a 20 x 30 foot grin? My best guess is that he just finished building a new hog lot or something of that sort. This does place him in time and place and he was known throughout the area. This is the sort of information you will find in the gossip column.
Another source of newspapers are the church newspapers. In the early days, the major church groups had newspapers for their members. Since most of these were either regional or national, the information was taken from a very wide area of interest. In the Western Methodist newspaper, you will find records from New Orleans to Louisville and Memphis to Richmond, Virginia. The whole of the southeast was covered in one newspaper. Here you might find an article on Joseph Brown of Philadelphia that fell off of his roof while repairing it and broke a left and he has not expired as yet. Someone in New Orleans knows Joseph Brown and they needed to know about him. Church newspapers are much harder to find than other ones, but most of the major church groups have collections of them in their archives.
Most newspapers have not been abstracted, but many local genealogical and historical societies might have done some abstracting for their area, so don’t overlook this source.
Happy Hunting!



Shelby County, TN Newspaper Abstracts

Rhea County, TN in Old Newspapers 1809-1834

Rhea County, TN Newspapers - 9 Volumes - 1880's to 1930's

The Chattanooga Daily Rebel - 1863

The Dresden Gossiper - 1866 (Weakley County, TN)

Missouri Obituaries from the newspaper for the Missouri Methodist Church - CD Version

Early Texas News



If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.