Programs in Genealogical Research

What’s New Is Old

After explosive growth the last five years, genealogical databases have settled in and now derive their best returns from developing their collections. One of the key sources that meet many tricky chronology tests of the Genealogical Proof Standard is the newspaper article that nails the date, year, or place of an event. Faced with a gravestone, a Bible entry, and a family recollection, all of which provide conflicting dates, the impartial evidence of a newspaper death notice trumps all.

There are many unexpected finds waiting in the OCR-readable collections of three hundred years of local, state, and national newspapers. Which database service you choose may decide whether you find these or miss them. New York region searchers will find things in the Fultonhistory.org website but will struggle with the site’s search engine. Unlike most genealogy database search engines, those for Fultonhistory.org, Genealogybank.com, or Newspapers.com are most unforgiving in their range. If your search word is hyphenated in the tiny columns of a newspaper, the search engine will not return your result. If the ancient widow you hope received a death notice is not called by her exact name as you request it, but rather “the widow of” a man’s name, the search engine will not return the result, even if you know the date, even if it is there.

Have a common name and you’ve done the search very thoroughly in a huge newspaper database? Don’t forget to return regularly and repeat the search. Database providers are building their collections and most offer an “added in last 30 days” option that searches only new material. Recent finds from old newspapers might include more children for an elusive ancestor, an unexpected court case, a simple traffic accident with long consequences, or a probate sale of land you didn’t know he owned.

When your question is when, don’t forget the newspapers.

Melinde Lutz Byrne