Geneology with Janet Wahlberg: Using Newspapers


A wonderful resource to add to add context to our ancestor’s lives is newspapers. We are all familiar with searching for obituaries that can add so many clues to our research. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg of what you can find.

Over time researching for others and my own personal research, I have made some interesting discoveries in newspapers. I discovered the story behind my great uncle’s death at 16 from Tetanus. One family from Chautauqua County had a female member who moved to Rochester and won many awards for her household hints and recipes. Then there are the social columns that note who visited from out of town or held a bridal shower, etc. churches and organization. I found an article of a young man who was listed with others as being physically unfit to serve in WWI. You may find stories of family members who belonged to local organizations and churches. These stories give you a broader picture of the lives of those who came before us. If your family owned a business, try looking for advertisements in the local paper for that particular time period.

If there was not a paper in the town that your family lived in, look in the surrounding towns, particularly in the county seat. Look specifically for columns dedicated to the town or township where your family lived.

To do this research you will need to know where to look. The Prendergast Library has drawers full of microfilm of the old newspapers. These are especially useful when you know the date or approximate date of an event. Beware, as you will find yourself sidetracked with fascinating articles that have nothing to do with your family. We have a few books at the Hall House that contain extractions of new articles. The internet provides boundless resources that are both free and pay sites that can be used. Locally many of us use Old Fulton Look for Newspapers .com or Chronicling America. Find My Past has a newspaper archive as does Ancestry. If you go to the Family Search Wiki and type in United States Newspapers, you will find an incredible list of resources. Of course, you can simply Google Newspapers for genealogical research. And finally try searching

You will discover that there are specific techniques that help you obtain the results that you are looking for. Try putting a name in several different ways, such as first and last, just the last name, first initial and last name, or perhaps a nickname. You may also want to try alternate spellings. On many of the sites, you can filter results by adding locations, dates, and other information. Again, I would encourage you to read any descriptive material that the sites provide for you.

Starting today, try using newspapers as another source of stories and information on your ancestors or just for fun, put your own name in to see what pops up.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.