FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

The Execution of Small Town Newspapers

If your part of the world is like ours, less ink and paper is being published that has any resemblance of the community that existed in small town newspapers of days gone by.   Electronic media is probably the main culprit but coupled with corporate greed (need?) to ever increase the bottom line, their demise has been assured.

Scene18 Newspaper organizations are laying off employees, reducing the number of pages in print by half and are becoming generic given that here only seems to be ten or so newspaper journalists remaining in the world.  Everything on the page seems to come from a common pool of articles created by one or two news organizations.   Pool all the daily and weekly articles together and the price per word goes down when you shop from the same trough.

Today, we rarely read about weddings, golden anniversaries, missionaries and who visited whom.  Instead, the news organizations have created “Community Posts” sections on their websites.  These sections were supposed to replace the hard copy weekly publications that we’ve loved for generations, but alas, they are nothing more than headline grabbers from the normal paper sprinkled with an occasional community concert, play or scout activity notice.

Gone are the papers we loved for generations.  Gone are the informative articles that were like manna to genealogists.

Looking back through my own research, almost all of the ‘knowledge’ about the lives and personalities of my ancestors came from small town papers.  At first glance, I thought that their surviving letters and notes probably had the edge, but on closer inspection of my files, it quickly became apparent that my memory was wrong.

I love touching my collection of letters and notes because my ancestors touched and created them.  That alone has a big impact on how I perceive them as data mines and probably biased my thoughts that they provided the majority of the personality facts about my ancestors.  In truth, most of my knowledge about them came from the thousands upon thousands of small town newspaper clippings in my files.

My mother was a perpetual newspaper article clipper with a determined focus on any that contained information about family and friends, near and far.  A few years before her passing, she asked what I wanted from her estate.   The answer was easy.   Her genealogy and the newspaper clippings.  In my opinion, nothing else had value by comparison.  The clippings were significant additions to my own family history research documentation.  The smell of the clippings has gifted the atmosphere in my office and genealogy library rooms in our home with the patina of old newsprint and documents.  The hard core genealogists among us know that we’d rather smell that scent than the most expensive French perfume.

Knowing that the pages of the small town papers were dripping with much more information than mom had collected, I called the editor of the small town papers in our area a couple of years ago hoping to wrangle access to their storage library.  With some vehemence, he related that the new owners, a national chain of mid-sized newspaper titles across the country, had ordered all of the old papers be trashed.  Gone were the 100 plus years of the American Fork Citizen, the Pleasant Grove Review, the Lehi Free Press.  “Trash the ‘d___’d” things right now while we watch.  We need the room for other things”.  He was still as sick at heart as I now felt.

I argued the act was a capital crime in my book – that I’d have stored them myself – that I’d have digitized them for posterity out of my own pocket.  How could anyone be so blatantly stupid to destroy them?  Pound for pound, page for page, the small town newspapers contained the richest content in that medium for a genealogist.  Now the old brittle yellow pages have turned to compost at the local land fill.

Small town newspapers of old will never be recreated in the modern world.  Our times are too full of identity thieves, privacy laws, and the sons of Satan who feed on society through theft and deception.  A current day recreation of the folksy articles in the old papers would be too inviting to these miscreants.  We already have to guard homes during funeral services for family members because the bad guys know that the family will be gone at a set time and date.  What would they do with the details found in stories of days-gone-by in a current day setting?

Fortunately, not all of the old papers have been lost.  Many colleges and other entities are digitizing some of the old papers and making them available to us through the web, libraries and other similar venues.  If you haven’t taken the time to find them and explore their content rich pages in your own ancestral quest, today would be a good day to do so.  Don’t just read these words and nod in agreement.  Dive in and find the genealogical Gold that awaits you in their pages.

In an earlier post I wrote about making the ‘Essence of New Mown Hay”.  I wish someone would create the scent of yellowed old newsprint.  A puff or two during our electronic forays into the old papers would add the aroma required to enhance the research experience.  Add a weathered old page or two of a current day newspaper for texture, turn the lights low and clutter your office.  Ahhh…. the cozy feel of researching old newspapers like it used to be in “the good old days”.

15 April 2009 Posted by | Digital Newspapers | , , , | 1 Comment

Amazing Grace

I’ve spent a lot of hours looking for ancestral information in old newspapers over the past few weeks.  Some of the articles brought Joy.  Others made me Sad.  Thank goodness that these treasures weren’t lost when the newspapers were discarded years ago.

I knew that one of my great grandfathers had experienced a nervous breakdown after spending years in a particularly nasty work environment, but didn’t realize how badly he was affected.   Reading article after article about his problems made me ache over the impact his problems had on his wife, children, parents and extended family.   The articles provided answers to many questions I’ve entertained for decades about his life.   The Huggard Hyrum James Factory Injury  10Jun1904situation was worse than I’d imagined.

Bless great-grandma.  Bless grandma.   Now, coupled with the articles, my mothers notes about the details she’d heard as a child provide windows into scenes that I wouldn’t have imagined.  

Today, when I think of great grandma, the song Amazing Grace comes to my mind alongside her photo.

My continued newspaper research quest revealed articles about the sad story surrounding the death of my great uncle, Hyrum Huggard.  My mother told me that her father’s brother was killed in an accident in Idaho.  She’d said that grandpa and his brother were very close and that he had grieved over the loss of his brother for years.  Other than knowing the date and place of Hyrum’s death, I didn’t have any other knowledge about the accident.   Thanks to the digital newspapers that the University of Utah has online, I now have at least part of the story. 

Hyrum James Huggard was the oldest son of Hyrum and Annie Featherstone Huggard.  Born in 1883, in American Fork, Utah, he decided that there was little future on the family farm and went to Sugar City, Idaho to work in the sugar mill when he was twenty.   Less than a year later, he was dead.

The news articles describe the accident.  A steel beam fell from an upper floor in the plant “severing half of his ear and cutting a very ugly hole in his head”.  He survived the train trip to Salt Lake City, but died shortly after arriving at St. Mark’s Hospital.Huggard Hyrum Jr Obituary 14Jun1904

His body was brought home for burial and after the memorial service, he was laid to rest in a plot that his parents purchased.   Later, his parents, several sibling and their spouses and their children would be buried surrounding his grave. 

Today, days into my latest foray into the old newspapers, I have copies of numerous obituaries, military draft notices, articles about life events and work events of my ancestors and their families.  Without the digital images, all of this information would be lost to time. 

Are you using the Internet to search for similar articles and notes about your family?  If not, you are missing a treasure trove that literally resides at your finger tips.  To access them, you can pay for subscription sites or you can search the free sites that many universities have established using funding that is awarded by the federal government every year.

Check out the U. S. Newspaper Program site to see if there are digitized newspapers that cover your area of interest.  If not, check out the Newsbank subscription site and others like it.  You’ll also want to talk to your local library and see if they have logon credentials for digital libraries and newspapers.  In most cases, they will provide login information at no cost to residents in their city / county / township.  

Late evening hours seem to produce the best results in my own ancestral news article quest.  Maybe it is because the noise of the day has settled to a rippling layer on the floor by then.   Find your own ‘sweet spot’ slice of time and give these resources a try.  You’ll be well rewarded for your effort.

9 March 2009 Posted by | Digital Newspapers, Genealogy, Obituaries | , , | 1 Comment

Small Town Newspapers

Small town newspapers are always a family history researcher’s best friend. I’ve been looking through some old copies of one of these publications for any information on my ancestors.

Recently, I found my 2nd great grandfathers obituary published on the front page of a small town paper 80 miles and several large cities north of where he lived. I was extremely surprised to see it in a ‘foreign’ newspaper.

In days gone by, the population wasn’t as large as it is today and most of the communication was done through newspaper articles. There are numerous unique entries on the pages of these papers that you’d rarely see in print today.

Did someone in town have a birthday party? Yes? Well, she was wearing this dress and got these presents and this is the name and home town of everyone who came to her party. Not only that, but “these” visitors stayed with her overnight and the next day they visited “these” folks and then went to dinner with “these” folks.

Whew! The nitty gritty of their lives was published for review. When someone passed away, had an accident, served in the military, had a good crop or served pie at the church fair, the events were often recorded in the local paper in detail.

I love this type of information in my research. Not only does it give me many facts to add to my records, it also helps me find the married names of daughters and cities of residence of family members. They also provide the much coveted historical ‘color’ that we need to help us visualize our ancestors lives and environment. It is Good Stuff in my opinion.

I noticed that Footnote is putting a lot of small town newspapers on their website and I have spent some time perusing through the current postings. None of the locations have helped in my research this far, but I’m told that many, many more small town newspapers will soon be on the site. I’ll watch them closely over the next few months.

You have to love the uninhibited reporting of the reporters in these newspapers. I laughed at one photo showing a car that had missed turning on either fork of a road and had instead run straight into a big tree. It seems that a fellow was out a little late on Friday night and the ‘soda’ he was drinking with his friends was a little stronger than what he’d been telling his folks. I don’t suppose he was able to concoct a story to off-set the family’s totaled car that was shown in the article, still in its mangled glory.

Make sure you don’t overlook these wonderful newspapers in your own ancestral quest. Odds are you’ll find some information in them about your ancestral family that you’ve dearly hoped to find for years.

7 March 2008 Posted by | Digital Newspapers | , , | Leave a comment