Before the Internet made life a lot easier for us, Iâ€™d often take my daughter Juliana with me to do family history research. At that time, university and large public libraries were the only places you could find microfilmed copies of old newspapers. I remember one afternoon, years ago, as if it was yesterday. Our mission was to locate obituaries for specific individuals. She had her list of people to find and I had mine.
As Juliana scrolled through old newspaper pages for the first time, she was fascinated. She kept calling me over to look at what she had found–advertisements for patent medicines, a womanâ€™s flapper-style dress that sold for one dollar, and a manâ€™s dress shirt for a quarter. Dramatic headlines and the now-humorous writing styles of a century ago pulled her right in. Her excitement was contagious and despite the fact that our time in the library was limited, we found ourselves totally distracted. Although we didn’t find much on our ancestors that day, it was one of the most memorable research trips I’ve ever taken. In retrospect, Iâ€™m sure that interesting stuff in the old newspapers helped to ignite the then twelve-year-oldâ€™s fascination with the past.
These days, we don’t have to keep an eye on that library clock to get the same experience. We have access to many historical newspapers online through Ancestry and other websites. When we get up in the morning, we can read the current news online–and then go and read the very newspapers that our ancestors read with their morning coffee a hundred or more years ago. It gives us a new perspective and allows us to get to know our ancestors in a way we never could before. And if you are lucky, maybe thereâ€™s a young person in your life who would take as much enjoyment from a virtual trip back in time as Juliana did. What better way to connect families over distance and time?