Eight Reasons You Should Be Using
Newspapers.com For Your Genealogy Research
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My mom is one of ten children. Yes, you read that right. Ten children – seven girls and three boys. And the even crazier thing is that my mom’s grandmother, Florence Wolken, was also one of ten children – seven girls and three boys.
And it was this family – all the (hundreds of!) descendants of my great-grandmother Florence Wolken and her nine siblings – who gathered together for a family reunion this past October. While I know a lot about my Mueller family history (Florence married a man named Frederick Mueller), I did not know anything about the Wolken family themselves. So the genealogist inside me was very excited to learn all the names, dates, and towns these new family members had to offer.
The day after the reunion, armed with this new information, I set off to do a bit of googling. As I typed in my ancestors’ names, one site kept coming up in the results – Newspapers.com. I had of course heard of the site before, but had never used it. Extremely curious based on those little newspaper blurbs I kept seeing, I quickly signed up and was amazed at what I found.
So what can you find using Newspapers.com in your search for your ancestors? So much. With over 15,600 digitized newspapers from the 1700s to the 2000s, there is an incredible amount of information to discover:
1. birth, marriage, and death dates related to your ancestor
In the past, our ancestors would often send announcements of major life events into newspapers – much like we still do with obituaries today. That means that there is a wealth of information on important dates in your ancestor’s life just waiting to be found.
Once I signed up for Newspapers.com, I typed one of my ancestor’s names – Frank Wolken, Florence’s father – into the search box, and was amazed at all the life events that showed up. One such event was his 1897 marriage to his wife Helen, shown below. I had known that his wife’s name was Helen, but didn’t know her maiden name – making this article one of my first great finds!
The above February 24, 1897 article tells us the date of Frank’s marriage to Helen Klodt. It also provides us with a number of names, a church location that would help us with further research, and more!
The obituaries available on the site are also interesting. In this December 9, 1918 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, I can see that my ancestor Frank Wolken died of influenza – which no one in my family today actually knew. It also provides the fascinating information that many of the rest of the family members had influenza as well. This gave me more of a sense of what the family was going through at the time, as well as a personal connection to the 1918 flu epidemic, which I never knew I had!
Notice how Frank’s name is spelled incorrectly in the title – it is definitely worth searching a few variations of your ancestor’s name to see if different articles appear.
2. your ancestor’s actual address
How amazing to be able to find the actual house where your ancestor lived! In the wedding announcement under Point #1, Frank and Helen’s address was also listed, making it even more of a great find. Using Newspapers.com, I also found an address for Florence Wolken (Frank and Helen’s future daughter, my great-grandmother) and Fred Mueller (my great-grandfather) in the below notice of their marriage license from October 17, 1928.
I think a visit to their old house might be in order!
3. Your Ancestor’s siblings’ names
All good genealogists know the important of the FAN(S) Club – researching your ancestor’s friends, associates, neighbors, and of course, siblings, to see if you can go further back in time via one of those routes. With Newspapers.com, you may find these siblings’ names listed in obituaries, wedding announcements, social notices, and more.
This December 9, 1918 obituary for my ancestor Frank Wolken provided me with the names of all of my ancestor’s – Florence Wolken’s – siblings – as well as her mother’s maiden name. It also lists the address where the family lived, and where my ancestor is buried – another great newspaper find!
4. Your ancestor’s burial plot location
As you can see above, the 1918 obituary also gives us the cemetery where Frank Wolken was buried. The below 1968 obituary for Helen Klodt, Frank’s wife, does as well:
This obituary also gives us many of the Wolken children’s married names – allowing me to take another new step in my research and look for present-day family members and cousins! This also explained a lot of those names in my Ancestry DNA matches – names I saw under relations but didn’t know who they were or why we were related.
5. The names of the previous generation
Many newspaper articles will list a woman’s maiden name, which allows you to go back one more generation than you had before. In the below March 21, 1950 obituary for Florence Wolken Mueller’s grandmother Anna, Anna’s maiden name is listed – allowing me to start researching an entirely new family line!
6. your ancestor’s school information
Some newspaper articles may also list where your ancestor went to school, which allows you to then contact the school and ask for records. In the below August 12, 1937 engagement announcement, we find out the school history of Virginia Wolken, Florence’s sister.
7. fascinating stories related to your ancestor
We can of course use FamilySearch and Ancestry to find wonderful records and facts about our ancestors, but Newspapers.com allows us to fill in the fascinating details of their lives – various events that allow us to see the life in between the year they were born and the year they died.
In the above December 1918 article, we learn that Frank Wolken Jr.’s car (or machine!) was stolen when he was in downtown St. Louis filing his father’s will. Between the obituary we found and this, we learn that this must have been a very hard month for the Wolken family – first, they all get influenza, then their father dies, and then their car is stolen. This gives us a lot more context than simply a death date on a record!
But it wasn’t all sad. The below 1922 article tells me that my great-great-grandmother and great-grandmother took a trip to Yellowstone in July of that year. I always thought that my family stayed put in St. Louis, so that was interesting for me to see as well.
Finally, in this 1896 article, I learned that Frank Wolken’s father, Gerhard Wolken, had to deal with neighbors complaining about his dairy business. It has long been in our family’s oral history that the Wolkens owned a major dairy company in St. Louis, so this was fascinating for me to see proof of (not that I didn’t believe my family, of course, but it’s nice to see documentation).
8. Chuckle at the old-fashioned ads and stories.
In addition to looking at your own ancestors’ stories, it’s also extremely amusing (and addicting!) to scroll through the old newspapers themselves and see what else was going on or deemed worthy of reporting in those years. See a few of my favorite examples below:
Advertising arsenic for women’s faces!
So there you have it! Eight wonderful reasons to sign up for Newspapers.com. It is my new favorite way to research my ancestors – and have a lot of fun along the way (to be honest, I often find myself getting side-tracked and looking up article after article when I should be working – just ask my family about all the stories they’ve been receiving via text)!
A small portion of the Wolken descendants at the October family reunion! Can you find me hidden on the left, third row from the back, next to the lady in the orange vest?