Extra Extra, Read All About It

Sometimes when doing family research, I feel like there is a lot of focus on the BMDs – the “born, married died” data. But if a specific person lived a span of years – say 1850—1940, what happened during that “dash” between the dates is probably a lot more interesting than just the birth and death dates. Instead of reading vital records or searching for a name in an index, it is fun to read about a family member in the newspaper.

My subscription to the New England Historical Genealogical Society comes with access to two different sets of old newspapers, from the earliest printed in the US, up to 1900. This is where I found a death date for Daniel Franklin Blood. But I also found information about a cousin, Sarah Beels Proctor, who committed suicide in 1842. I had her death date, but now know a little more about the event. I found a story about Minnie Blood Hayes Royce Royce, who was charged with, but acquitted of theft. These newspapers require payment for access, but there are other sources that are free.

Chronicling America website is part of the Library of Congress and holds digitized newspaper pages from 1860 to 1922. The website also has a newspaper directory that tells about newspapers that have been published since 1690. The website uses OCR to make the papers searchable. OCR means optical character recognition – when the paper is scanned, the story is converted into text that can be cut and pasted into another document. However, it pays to also save a copy of the newspaper image, and compare the text to the original. OCR isn’t exact. For example, the “i” is frequently interpreted as “l” so the word “ride” might be recognized as “rlde”. This site is where I found the story of cousin Fredrick Vroom, actor, and how his 2nd wife shot him for being unfaithful. He took off for the Alaska gold rush, and without a complainant, charges were dropped.  Want to see his most famous silent film “The General”?  It is at Archive.org and you can watch it on your computer at http://www.archive.org/details/TheGeneral1926.  See the newspapers at  http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

The University of Pennsylvania has a list of digitized newspapers, sorted by location. I have not checked them all out, but some are free, some are not. (Don’t you hate it when they say “free search”? Of course the search is free, but the results require payment!) Looking in the Florida papers, under St Petersburg, today I found Aunt Etha’s middle name, and the date she became a US citizen. http://gethelp.library.upenn.edu/guides/hist/onlinenewspapers.html

Wikipedia also has a list of world-wide newspapers that are available on line, and is more clear about what is free, and what isn’t. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_online_newspaper_archives

You can find even more by googling “historic newspapers”.

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