Newspaper Research Tips for Genealogical Research

by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Pam Walton of the Humble Area Genealogical Society recently presented a program titled "Getting the Most Out of that Newspaper" at Kingwood College in Kingwood, Texas. Here are some of her research tips, which I thought you might enjoy.

1. If you find an article abstracted from a newspaper, find the original source. The more times something is rewritten, the more removed it is from the original copy and the more prone it is to errors.

2. Request newspapers from other libraries by using interlibrary loan (ILL). Upon receipt, you will have a couple of weeks to examine it before returning it.

3. Expand research to neighboring communities and order more than one newspaper for the time-frame you are researching, since articles can differ drastically from paper to paper. For example, search newspapers from smaller and larger neighboring cities; they may have reported on the same event you are researching.

4. Order issues printed ten days prior to and ten days after an event, since certain items have follow-ups. For example, a death notice, funeral notice, burial notice, and obituary would be published on different days and would include different data.

5. Watch for items frequently overlooked by researchers, such as juror lists and letters left in post offices, which indicate someone had left the area. Even advertisements can be useful; for example, you could learn about a family business.

6. Keep a research log to avoid duplicating your work. Some useful headings for your research log include the date you ordered or looked at the newspaper; the name of the paper; the names, dates, and items you are researching; your findings; and whether or not you made photocopies.

7. If possible, photocopy the whole page of the newspaper, including the title and date, even if this makes the article too small to read. Then, make an enlarged, readable copy of the article itself. Label everything on the back, including the name of the paper, the publication location and date, the volume, the page number, and the column.

8. Organize your copies carefully. One method is to create files for individual males' surnames, sorted alphabetically by the first name, and another set for females' married surnames, sorted the same way. [Columnist's recommendation: You can also keep a set with maiden names and cross-reference the files by including a sheet of paper that references the other file.]

9. Use or Elizabeth Shown Mills's book "Evidence Explained" to cite newspaper references properly in your family tree and other citations.

Previously published in RootsWeb Review: 9 January 2008, Vol. 11, No. 2 [under the title "Newspaper Research Tips].

(Posted 20 January 2008)

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