Newspapers can fill in the gaps to the long-lost stories of your ancestors. These tips will help you narrow your search in digitized WWII newspapers for experiences directly relating to the war and to the lives of your ancestors.
In this previous post, I provided step-by-step tips for locating WWII-era newspapers. Those tips helped you locate the actual newspapers. In this post, I’ve got 7 tips for to help you focus on narrowing down a large list of results in search of war-related family stories.
Tip 1: Try Various Name Combinations in WWII Newpapers
If you are keyword searching in digitized newspapers, remember to try different name combinations. A man may be identified by just his first initial and last name. During the 1940s, a woman might be referred to as “Mrs. Ted Johnson” instead of Barbara Johnson.
Tip 2: Search for Addresses
You might find a family identified as “the Johnson’s of 132 Cherry Lane,” so try using street addresses in your searches, remembering that “Lane” might be spelled out or abbreviated. You may also find the family listed by their town or township. An example of this might be “the Johnson’s of Brown township,” or “the Johnson’s of Conover.”
Tip 3: Expand Your Search to Events and Organizations
Use any search terms you already know about for your family in World War II: a military unit, a battle or local service organization, or a war effort project that the folks back home may have helped out with. Do family stories mention rationing, air raid drills, bomb shelters, blackout rules, or one of the women getting a job at a certain factory? All these make excellent search terms.
Tip 4: Take Time to Browse
Browsing the pages will give you a sense of how the war affected everyday life at home. You may find recipes that make the most of ration allowances and reminders about blackout rules and curfews. You may even find tips on how to conserve gasoline or how to be fashionable without silk stockings!
Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It’s easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues.)
Tip 5: Be Aware of Newspaper Stoppages
If your family lived in an area that came under attack or was occupied, the local newspapers may have stopped printing. In that case, search other papers to see if they reported what was going on in your ancestor’s town.
Tip 6: Keep an Eye on the Homefront
For relatives who served in the military, watch for updates in local papers about how they were faring on the fronts during the war. Watch for casualty lists of the wounded, dead, and missing. Here’s something cool: newspapers also printed maps showing the progress of the war on the various fronts.
Tip 7: History Provides Hints
If you’re looking for reports about soldiers’ bodies returning home and funeral services, it will help to know that according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the War Department didn’t start bringing back remains until the fall of 1947 because of the huge logistical challenges involved. Over 93,000 American soldiers who died in World War II are buried overseas in one of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries.
Making the Most of Newspapers for Family History
Find more tips like these in my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for my foolproof research process, along with everything you need for success: worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources (and websites worth paying a few bucks for), a massive amount of location-specific websites (U.S. and international)–and a case study that puts it all to the test!
It’s common to hear of long-lost relatives who rediscover each other online or through DNA tests. But nearly 100 years ago, another new technology–the radio–united a pair of long-lost siblings 40 years after one ran away.
This newspaper article reports that Alonso Jones’ children were sitting around one day in 1926 listening to the radio. Then they heard the announcer say, “Alonso Jones, wherever you are, listen…Your sister wants to see you at Worthington, Ohio. She has not seen or heard from you in forty years. You were born at Antiquity, Meigs County, Ohio, at the time of the Civil War….”
“You were reared by Captain William Roberts, an Ohio River flat boat man. You went with him on a produce boat when you were a boy and ran away while the boat was lying at the bank in Arkansas.” The article reports that the man telegraphed his sister and arranged to meet her. What a great story! And what a great family history find for anyone researching Alonso Jones or his sister, Mrs. Robert Eakin, or his guardian, William Roberts!
Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1926, p. 1. Digitized at Ancestry.com.
This article illustrates two fantastic tips for newspaper searching.
FIRST, I originally found this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, digitized at Ancestry. I was struck because the story was about people from Ohio and Arkansas–not Salt Lake. As we still see today, local news stories of the past were often reported in other cities. When searching digitized newspapers, don’t automatically discount search results that otherwise seem right but appear in out-of-town papers.
SECOND, curious about this story, I used Lisa’s search strategies from her book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox to search for more information about the people mentioned in the article. I got a hit on a possible match for the riverboat caption. I also found that the Google News Archive had this same article in The Evening Independent in St. Petersburg, Florida (shown above). The copy above is much clearer to read and slightly different. For these reasons, it can sometimes be worth looking for duplicates of news articles and/or obituaries for your relatives.
Want to learn more? Genealogy Gems Premium members can also listen to Premium podcast episodes GGP 36 and 3GGP 37 about newspaper searching (Lisa talks about Google News Archive in episode 37). Or get the ultimate scoop in How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers! It’s packed with inspiring family history finds in the newspaper and all the tools you need (online and offline) for finding your own.
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 22, 2014
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 28: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2
Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, we talked about finding historical newspapers. In this episode, Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society shares inspiring stories about the kinds of family items she’s found in newspapers. She offers a dozen more fantastic tips on researching old newspapers.
Jane mentions these family history finds from old newspapers:
- photographs (engagements, weddings, obituaries, etc)
- family visits from out of town
- clues on immigrant arrivals
- who’s staying at local hotels
- news on relatives who were missionaries overseas
- crimes involving relatives as victims, perpetrators, investigators, etc.
- profiles of jurors
- family reunions
- probate items and transcriptions from court cases, like divorces
Here are 12 more tips for researching newspapers and organizing your discoveries:
- If you print out newspaper content found online, make sure you note where you found it. Source citation information may not be included in what you print.
- Look for probate and “bigger” news items in newspapers that have wider coverage than the town: a neighboring larger city or a county-wide paper. Also look at the map to see whether the nearest big paper is out-of-county or even out of state.
- Social calendar items (family visits, etc) were most popular up to the 1960s and 1970s. Newspapers today don’t look at local and personal news items.
- Sometimes death notices for more prominent people are accompanied by a much larger article about them that runs within a week before or after the obituary.
- There may have been both a morning and afternoon newspaper in some areas. Learn what papers were in town.
- Transcribe short newspaper articles into your family history software. Transcription helps you catch details you may otherwise miss, if you’re not reading very carefully.
- Nowadays with OCR and scanning, you can actually keep a digital copy of the article itself.
- Look for ethnic newspapers in the advanced search at the U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America.
- Any mention in a newspaper can point you to other records: court files, immigration and naturalization papers, military documents, cemetery records and more.
- Google! See the link below for the updated Google News resource (for historical newspapers).
- Newspapers can act as a substitute or supplement for records that have been lost in courthouse fires and floods or other records.
- Like today, not everything we read in the newspaper is true!
Updates and Links
- Some of the digital newspaper collections mentioned in the episode are available by library subscription, like The Early American Newspapers collection the and 19th century Newspaper Collection from The Gale Group. Check with your local library.
- My You Tube channel now has several videos on newspaper research and on using Google’s powerful tools for your family history research. However, Google discontinued the Google News Timeline mentioned in this episode.
- Check out the benefits of Genealogy Gems Premium Membership–including all those great video classes mentioned in the episode–here.
A few great newspaper research sites:
Fold3.com (formerly Footnote.com)
Finally, don’t forget this Genealogy Gems resource: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers walks you through the process of finding and researching old newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources, websites worth paying for, location-based newspaper websites and a case study that shows you how it’s done.
If you tune in regularly to Genealogy Gems, you know I love using newspapers to learn more about my relatives. I wanted to alert you to two FREE back-to-back podcast episodes on how to find your family history in newspapers. These episodes will get you started or revitalize what you’re already doing:
Family History Made Easy: Episode 27: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1
Family History Made Easy: Episode 28: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2 (Part 2 will be published on April 22, 2014)
What have YOU found in old newspapers about your family? Share it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!