Extra! Extra! Finding Info in Unindexed Newspapers - Tuesday's Tip

Paper Boy clip art
(Copyright (c) 2015 Cynthia Shenette) One of my ongoing frustrations and difficulties is in finding family history and genealogy information in unindexed newspapers.  Thank goodness for existing newspaper databases like GenealogyBank, Old Fulton Postcards, and Chronicling America that provide searchable access to newspapers.  Unfortunately, many newspapers still do not have sufficient electronic access which is the case with my local newspaper, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  While the Telegram is indexed online indexing doesn't start until 1989 leaving a major gap in coverage from the beginning of publication (1884 for the Sunday edition and 1886 for the daily) until 1989.

My grandmother was a saver and clipped every newspaper article that came her way--marriages, graduations, performances, retirements--but I'm sure there is plenty of stuff that she missed.  I'm also sure there were plenty of things that didn't occur to her to clip.  I am convinced there is a treasure trove of family history information in the Telegram in the years prior to 1989.  But how to find it?  I've come up with a few techniques that sometimes help in locating information.

Start with the Date of an Event, and Look at the Newspapers Before and After the Event

I think most genealogists are familiar with scrolling through microfilm looking for family obits.  I use the same technique when for looking for information about performances and events.  Last year I wrote a post about a program I have from a 1926 dance recital.  After my post I decided to try to see if I could find some information about Miss Mae Gleeson's dance recital in the newspaper.  I used the date on the program, May 12, 1926 and scrolled through the microfilm of the Telegram for the days around the date of the recital.  Clearly, May was recital month in Worcester in 1926.  I found numerous articles on recitals.  I scrolled through the microfilm for the days before the recital and the day after.  The day after the recital I found a short article about the event!

Learn the History of an Event, and Place Your Family In Context Within the Bigger Picture

According to a family story my grandmother adopted sister's parents both died the same day during the 1918 flu pandemic, leaving my grandmother's adopted sister, my "Aunt Rose" and several siblings orphaned.  I did a little research online and discovered that the majority of flu deaths in Massachusetts occurred during the fall of 1918.  Armed with that knowledge I decided to use the October 1, 1918 issue of the Telegram as a starting place for my research.  I could go back to the September issues or forward to the November issues from there if need be.  I figured if two parents died on the same day and left several children orphaned that might be newsworthy.  I started scrolling through the October issues of the newspaper--I didn't have to scroll long.  On page six of the Telegram for October 1, 1918 I found the story I was looking for.

Check to See if Your Public Library Has a Vertical File or a Clipping File

I am fortunate in that the Worcester Public Library has incredible clipping files.  Does your public library have a vertical file?  While the more recent issues of the Worcester Telegram are the only ones indexed online the clipping files provide some newspaper coverage prior to 1989.  A while back I was trying to find out when St. Mary's School opened, and there was a file on Our Lady of Czestochowa (St. Mary's) in the church section of the Worcester files which led me to an approximate date in the Telegram. From there I was able to scroll through the microfilm for additional information. I also discovered there was a file on my Aunt Rose's business, Cadet Industries.  You never know what you might find, so it behooves you to take a look.

A Database Might Lead You Back to Your Unindexed Hometown Newspaper

I have access to the Boston Globe Historical Archive (1872-1982) through work.  A few weeks ago I decided to do a search on a person involved in a crime in Worcester.  I didn't know exactly when the crime or the court case took place, other than it probably took place sometime in the 1920s.  To my surprise the criminal's name came up in the Globe archive.  I used the date given in the Globe article to find an article in the microfilm around the same date in the Telegram.  I discovered the person was sentenced to seven to 10 years in state prison.  Now I can do further research into criminal records related to the case.  

Don't Assume Your Family Didn't Make News in Other Parts of the Country

We all know what happens when we assume....  

I have GenealogyBank which I love.  When I first started subscribing I searched on Szerejko which is a fairly unique name.  I was surprised to discover my grandmother was mentioned in the Boston Daily Record, the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), and the Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois).  My grandmother witnessed a plane crash in our neighborhood in 1957, and newspapers across the country carried the story. I had completely forgotten about my grandmother's plane crash story until I saw the articles in GenealogyBank.  I was able to get the date from the GenealogyBank articles and search the microfilm of the Telegram for the same date.

Use a Database from a Neighboring Geographic Area

I was looking for information on the Tumbleweed Guest Ranch in West Kill, New York for background info for my post, Tumbleweed Guest Ranch, August 1943.  Since the ranch was in New York, I decided to search Old Fulton Postcards, a newspaper database, to see if I could find info on the ranch.  I found the info I was looking for, and I also found advertisements for the ranch.  I decided to use some of the wording that appeared in the advertisements to see if I could find the same advertisement in other newspaper databases, and voila, I did!  The same advertisement appeared in other newspapers along the East Coast--in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.  I wondered how my mom found out about Tumbleweed, given it was located in the Catskills.  Now that I know the dates the advertisement ran in other papers I bet I could go to my local paper, check the same dates, and find a Tumbleweed advertisement in the Worcester Telegram.

Know Which Way Your Local Newspaper Leans

Is there more than one newspaper in town?  If yes, which way does each paper lean? Right or left?  Blue collar or white collar?  Worcester currently only has one daily paper, but it use to have more than one. Back in the day the Worcester Telegram was more the white collar workers' paper (i.e. the paper for the people who owned or ran the factories).  The Worcester Post which is no longer published was the blue collar workers' paper (i.e. the paper for the people who worked in the factories).  I was looking for information on when my grandfather left for camp to be shipped overseas during World War I.  I looked in the Worcester Telegram, and there were general articles talking about young men leaving for war.  When I looked in the Post there were multiple lists of the names of young men heading off to war!  It's important to know what newspaper your ancestors were reading at the time they were alive.

If you haven't tried some of these newspaper search techniques already I hope you do.  While newspaper databases are a great source of information, don't forget or neglect to check those unindexed newspapers as well. Searching them takes a little more time and effort, but the rewards are great and may provide that one tidbit of information that you can't find anywhere else.  

If you have any special techniques for searching unindexed newspapers I'd love to hear from you. Or if  you've written your own blog post about how a particular technique has worked for you feel free to link to your post in the comments section below.

Happy searching!

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