I was recently asked to write a MyHeritage guest blog post discussing how their newspaper collection played a part in my research for the 1890 New Bedford, Massachusetts photo album. The MyHeritage newspaper collection was the only online source I found for the New Bedford Evening Standard and The Evening Journal, covering the years 1860–1920 and was a significant source for my research.
I thought I would continue where I left off in that article with a few more examples of how using newspaper collections can extend and possibly correct genealogy research.
The power of obituaries
My research process always involves heavy use of newspaper articles, if available, to round out the personality of the person I’m researching. The articles can bring an understanding of what was important to the person and how they went about their daily lives.
We all know the power of a well-written obituary. Take the case of the obituary for Berta Holcomb‘s father, Roland Holcomb. We are drawn into the description of the evening of his death, which was spent playing cards with his wife. The obituary tells us where he lived, how long he’d been ill, his age, his former occupation, the location of his former business, when he retired, the place of his birth, how long he’d lived in New Bedford, and lists his survivors.
Are obituaries always accurate? No. But, they provide a great foundation for a search of higher quality sources.
For Mr. Holcomb, we could look for census records, city directories, a death record, maps, and other standard genealogy records to prove some of the “facts” in the obituary.
But, it is unlikely we would have ever discovered he was playing cards with his wife when he died from one of those.
Correcting online errors
Franklin and Caroline Nye Young’s third child, Franklin Andrew Young, Jr., was born on 24 March 1905 in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey. Caroline died the same year and her headstone, with a photo on Find A Grave, lists a death year of 1905 with no month or day.
Obviously assuming she died in childbirth, the trees I found online listed her death date as the same as her son’s birth in March 1905. While her death was possibly related to the birth, the obituary states Caroline died on the 3rd of April, about 10 days after the birth of her son. As death records in New Jersey are few and far between, this was a significant find.
Distress at sea, a shipload of bananas, and “an orgy of gin fights”
My newspaper searches are typically wide and use a variety of sources and websites. As with all my searches, I try to keep a list of resources as I find them in the Library and Resources section of this website – this section began when the bookmarks on my laptop became unwieldy. Here is the Bristol County page from my New Bedford research.
Quite a few of the members of the New Bedford class of 1890 took voyages to Europe. When I find a passenger list, I search newspapers for when and where the ship arrived. Frequently there is some sort of report of its arrival, typically, just a note of the date, time, and passenger count.
In the case of Ray Greene Huling, his ship from Glasgow, Scotland broke down at sea. The S.S. Ethiopia finally arrived in New York on the 27th of September in 1875.
In 1932, Irene Mayhew Bassett and her sister, Dorothy, arrived in Boston aboard the SS San Benito with a cargo of bananas.
But, the return voyage from France of Harriet Love Cornell, a 57-year-old, single teacher, must have been one of the most memorable.
Harriet departed on the S.S. Rotterdam from Boulogne-Sur-Mer for New York on 22 Aug 1928, sailing in the third cabin, and arriving on 31 Aug 1928.
The newspaper article, “Student Trip Called Orgy of Gin Fights,” included an account by a Yale student stating, “It was the worst drunken party I ever hope to see.” Poor Harriet; hope she wasn’t a light sleeper.