Newspaper research is my favorite way to find stories that become family and local history treasures.
In this episode of How to Find Estelle, I share a few resources I think you will find helpful. Listen, check out the links below, or consult the transcript on this page.
[00:00:00] Narrator: Estelle True-Nell was a remarkable woman. Our modern era has forgotten her, and I think that's too bad. I'd like to introduce you to her amazing life, one career at a time. Along the way we might pick up a tip or two for ourselves, as we learn How to Be Estelle.
[00:00:25] I have had tremendous fun tracking down Estelle and her family. In this episode, we'll focus on How to Find Estelle (or in your case, how to find the people, places, and topics that interest you).
[00:00:39] Because Estelle led such a big, creative life, she often found herself in the news, either because she had placed ads for one of her endeavors in the local paper, or because some aspect of her life and business was interesting enough to draw legal and media attention.
[00:00:55] Even if the people in your area of interest weren't public figures or weren't as likely to be involved in lawsuits, you might still find them in their local newspapers. Even when they're not named specifically, news coverage can help you know what events, trends, and issues were affecting them.
[00:01:14] You have lots of options for online newspaper searches. The key is to find out which resources are most likely to cover the time periods and areas that matter to you.
[00:01:24] First, see what's available online and for free. The Library of Congress has its Chronicling America project, which allows you to access an impressive collection of newspaper titles. Pay attention to the Advanced search tab/ It lets you narrow your search by year, location, key words, and even phrases.
[00:01:44] Unfortunately, there is no one search to rule them all. You need to look for the papers that will be relevant to your areas of interest, and that means looking in multiple places.
[00:01:55] The Ancestor Hunt website holds some impressive state-by-state lists of available online newspapers. It's worth checking there to see what they have listed for your dates and places.
[00:02:05] You might also want to check state archives and historical societies. For example, the state of Missouri offers a lot of information about its digital and physical newspaper collections on its website.
[00:02:18] Next, check your local library to see what access you might have to online newspaper databases. Of the fee-based services, Newspapers.com has had the best coverage for the areas I'm researching, but you might have better luck with GenealogyBank or NewspaperArchive if you're looking in another part of the country. In most cases, these database sites will have a way for you to search or browse to see what coverage they have for each geographic area, even if you don't currently have a subscription. From those lists of newspaper titles, you can decide which services might work best for you.
[00:02:50] If you can get free access through your library, or if you have a chance for a free trial, I'd encourage you to search all of the available databases, especially if you think a story might have had regional or national appeal. I've found a few stories that were just unusual enough to gain wider coverage as wire stories, so I actually found a few of my research subjects in papers from across the country.
[00:03:13] We know that not everything is online. You may need to look at analog collections on microfilm or even paper. There are still things you can do from home to prepare for that.
[00:03:24] First, check online catalogs to see what papers are available. I have two favorite sources for this. The first is the U.S. Newspaper Directory from the Library of Congress.
[00:03:33] The U.S. Newspaper Directory allows you to pull a list of all the papers known for a particular state, county, and city for a particular time frame. Once you access the record for a specific newspaper, you can opt to view the holdings information for that paper, meaning that you can get a list of the libraries that may have copies. Pay special attention to the dates listed. The libraries listed may not have all the issues published for a specific paper, but from there, you can email or call a library to confirm what's available and how to access it.
[00:04:04] WorldCat is my other favorite tool for this. WorldCat is a worldwide library catalog that may also help you locate particular newspaper titles, and books as well. You can tell it your location, and WorldCat will help you identify the closest libraries that have the titles you want.
[00:04:21] It's also a good idea to check the website or social media pages for any local genealogical and historical societies in the areas you're researching. They may have resources available online or they might have research assistance available at a reasonable rate.
[00:04:37] As you begin a research trip, keep your list of names and dates up-to-date. When you have a chance to visit a library to view newspapers on microfilm, you can target specific dates like weddings, graduations, births, deaths, and elections to see how those were covered. Sometimes you'll be lucky. I found one newspaper account for a wedding that listed all the guests and told what wedding gift each person brought.
[00:05:00] Sometimes you won't have any luck at all. The paper might be missing for that date, or the coverage might be less than you want. In one case, the newspaper editor reported a wedding but said that the young couple was so well known in the community, there was no need to say anything more about them. Oh! That one hurt.
[00:05:18] You'll want to check the days or weeks before and after the event, too. Midwestern early 20th century papers sometimes included social-media-like updates telling whose families had guests from out of town or who had Sunday dinner with whom. Those little details can be small treasures that help you find more clues or just help you understand your ancestors' environment and community a little better.
[00:05:41] I'd suggest building some extra time into your search so you can browse the advertising and local news sections. Doing that will give you a better sense of the events and influences your subjects encountered in their lifetimes.
[00:05:53] I hope you'll consider adding newspaper research to your plans. It's certainly my favorite type of research because the things we find can add so much depth and color to a story.
[00:06:05] Good luck with your research, and join me next time as we learn How to Be Estelle.