We all know that newspapers can give us obits, marriage and birth announcements – but don’t stop there. Newspapers are the window into our ancestors lives. Have you ever read the newspaper they read?
My great grandparents James and Sudie Turner lived in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1951. So I scanned the offerings over at Newspapers.com (did you know as an Ancestry.com subscriber you can subscribe for half off?) I found a Gastonia, NC newspaper which is not far from Charlotte, and sat down to do a little reading.
Here are ten things I looked for to gain historical perspective about my great grandparents (you can click on the image to see the full size clipping):
#1. The front page headline. On January 1st, 1951, the Korean War seemed front and center on people’s minds. How we study wars and view them some 60 years later, might be a little bit different than how your ancestors viewed wars and other national events as they lived through them.
#2. Look through the paper and make notes on where you find vital information: Births, Marriages and Deaths. In the Gastonia Gazette, deaths appear on page 2. To make sure you can source the article, write down page number, and column number as well as the name of the newspaper.
#3. Look at information like your ancestors did. In the Jim Crow south, vitals for African Americans were listed separately, at least they were in the Gastonia Gazette.
#4. Gossip. People have been gossiping as long as there have been people. Look for a Society News column to see who was important in the town. Maybe you’ll find your ancestors, maybe you’ll find the people they told stories about.
#5. Editorials, Editorial Cartoons and other Musings about Issues of the Day. Look beyond just the facts to gain perspective. Compare newspapers in different parts of the country. May not be how your ancestors felt, but it gives you a feel for how some in the community felt.
#6. Now it’s time for some entertainment. Let’s try the Comics for some lighter fare.
#7. What movies did they watch? What stars did they follow? Many papers had Hollywood Gossip Columns. This isn’t going to solve the problem of who was your great grandfather’s father. Trees are built on relationships, dates and places. But understanding the people in those trees can be gained from understanding even the little things about the world they lived in.
#8. How much did it cost to live and how much did people earn? Check on the classified ads for houses to rent or buy. Look in the help wanted ads to see what jobs were available.
#9. Let’s go shopping! Look for ads for clothing to see how much cloths cost and what was in style that year. Look for ads for the local drug and food stores.
#10. Weddings in the 1950’s didn’t quite rival a lot of weddings that you might attend today. And even if you can’t find a wedding announcement for your ancestors, if you find a few wedding announcements from around that time, you might have an idea what it was like.
Don’t forget to save Clippings of what you find as you go so you can it quickly next time. Also, you can save a link to a person in an Ancestry.com tree.
So the next time you are writing a blog post, or updating your ancestors story maybe it’s time to become a Newspapers.com subscriber. Or if you have beaten your head against that brick wall until you can’t take it anymore. Stop and gain a little historical perspective on the ancestors you know about. The events they lived through and the decisions they made are the reason you are who you are. A little insight is a good thing.