Saturday, March 3, 2012

Casting a Wide Net in Newspaper Searches

As you are searching for information about your family it is easy to forget to search beyond your hometown paper. Once you have exhausted every reference in your local paper, if there are particular people who wandered around or did something particularly noteworthy or notorious, I encourage you to cast a wider net. Occasionally, you will get lucky. Even if you think all of the details of a story were in the hometown paper, it is worth looking further afield. You may find tidbits of information that weren't published locally. While we can never be certain that all of the details in any newspaper account are completely accurate, each new kernel may lead you to another source to examine. Another thing to consider is that some details may not have made the morning local paper. A neighboring paper may not possess any scruples about publishing all of the dirty laundry.

Another instance in which searching broadly pays off is exemplified by the case of John Flynn. I had previously found a death record for him in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At that time, a few years ago, I contacted the Ann Arbor District Library to ask them to search for a death notice for him. They were unable to find anything. When I subscribed to Genealogy Bank for a month, I decided to search for him throughout Michigan. I knew from the death record that he died after falling from a tall building so I believed I might find something. The nearby Jackson paper had what I was looking for. Poor Mr. Flynn was a mason and fell off a ladder while carrying a hod (a pointy trowel used for placing mortar). The hod pierced his side and he bled to death hours later. Armed with this information, I again contacted the Ann Arbor Library and they were quickly able to procure the notice in the paper.

In several other instances, a Kalamazoo story made other Michigan papers and even out-of-state papers. One example was the Harrigan girl whose fiance was practically dragged from her home by the other young woman vying for his affections. Marriage license in hand, she took him across town and married him that day. Why this story made the Chicago papers, I'll never know, but it did. Murder stories tend to make it further afield. When Henry Harrigan whacked a man over the head with his cane in 1889 I found the story in numerous papers, including in Salt Lake City. The Christmas morning murder of my grandmother's sister appeared in newspapers as far away as New Orleans.

To read about what else you can find in newspapers see:  Digging For Dirt in NewspapersBeyond Obituaries, Searching For Context, and Search Tips & Tricks.


  1. Hey - I stumbled upon you thanks to a genealogy-related Twitter account. My great-grandfather, Andrew Beam, had a large role in building the Parchment community. He was a substitute teacher and the football coach at the high school. I have a LOT of information on his family going back to the 1600s. Are you interested?

  2. That's really exciting that you can trace his family back that far. I wish I could say the same. You might consider starting your own blog. With that many generations you are bound to have some black sheep.