Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Digging for Dirt -- Beyond Obituaries

Obituaries can be very useful, as we all know, but there is a lot more to uncover in newspapers than that. You may also find marriage notices, anniversaries, birth announcements or divorce cases on the court docket. But, if your ancestors lived outside of a large metropolitan area you are likely to find much more.
I signed up for a one-month trial of Genealogy Bank and found much more than I could have imagined. In the spring of 2011, they added a run of the Kalamazoo Gazette starting in 1837 and running through the end of 1922. Some of the things I found included: descriptions of weddings, notices of sickness, birthday parties, arrests, involvement in baseball teams, winning categories at the county fair, visits from out-of-town kin and more.

And then we get to the interesting things, like the young woman whose fiance was paying a call at her house when the other woman vying for his affection appeared. She took him with her across town, marriage license in hand, to get married. The original fiance and her mother reportedly fainted. There was also the case of the young man who was arrested in Canada after running away with his underage girlfriend and leaving her with no means to get home. No other mention of the case was found, except for a notice of application for a marriage license a week or two later.

Other family secrets included my great-grandmother's sister, Nettie Allion, who was arrested for theft. When the police searched her room they found “half a bushel of handkerchiefs, stockings, towels, a belt, a pair of black glass goggles, a pair of shoes, hair pins and other trinkets” she had stolen. I hadn't expected that, but the item that really shocked me was the revelation that the brother of a different great-grandmother had been arrested, tried and imprisoned for rape in 1890.

Some entries may only be a few lines, but can speak volumes about your ancestor. For example, I found this notice: LOST-- Two white and black hounds. Kindly turn these dogs loose, as there is no reward on them.” That sure seemed pretty cold to me. Twelve years later this same man cheated on his wife leaving her with five young kids to raise after their divorce.

Although each entry may be small, every little line adds a bit more information that will flesh out the lives of our ancestors. If your ancestors lived in Kalamazoo between 1837 and 1922 you can add tremendously to your knowledge by an investigation of the Kalamazoo Gazette. Now that the Kalamazoo Public Library has released the digitized Kalamazoo Telegraph we have twice as many opportunities to find out more about our people.

To read more about what newspapers can teach you about your ancestors see:  Digging For Dirt, Adding Context, Casting a Wide Net and Search Tips & Tricks.

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