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How Newspapers Helped Understand My Genealogy Brick Wall Ancestor

Genealogy Brick Wall with clues from newspapers overlayed

Are you using newspapers to tackle your genealogy brick walls? Newspapers helped me learn a lot about who my ancestor is and who my ancestor is not.

Know Your Goals Before Searching in Newspapers

When I'm exploring newspapers for John in Cincinnati, Ohio, I'm looking for several things.

  • Any record that said that John moved from Elizabeth to Cincinnati.

  • Any articles that could designate who his father was.

  • Search for George and Major Townley, men with the same surname from Elizabethtown, New Jersey who moved to Cincinnati about the same time as John Townley.

While exploring newspapers in New Jersey for Effingham Townley, I'm searching for the following:

  • Anything that ties Effingham to a son named John in Cincinnati.

  • Anything that connects Effingham to a son named John that died.

Video: Researching Newspapers to Tackle Genealogy Brick Walls

Watch this research process in action in this video.

Search Multiple Newspaper Databases For Your Ancestor

When you research multiple locations, you may have to search various databases to find answers.

I have featured often on this blog and my YouTube channel. However, GenealogyBank had the newspapers that covered Elizabethtown, New Jersey, when I needed to research.

Sparse Newspaper Information Has Genealogical Value

I found one newspaper article for Effingham Townley in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. It was a listing of Mortuary Notices in 1828. It contained very little information.

Mortuary Notice New York, New York 13 May 1828

Not every entry in newspapers will give you everything you need, wanted, or hoped for. But you can help build the case that your ancestors are in the place that you think they're supposed to be.

Additionally, that entry can help you establish dates. Perhaps you have a will and a probate case, but you don't have a death date. The publication of a death notice in a newspaper, no matter how brief, may also help you confirm a death date.

Newspapers Often Feature People You Wish Were Your Ancestors

In Cincinnati, a man named John Townley frequently appears in the papers. This John is an insurance man. Various newspaper articles detail his land transactions, business activities, favorite cigar, where he ate lunch, and when he got sued. This John Townley is actually a nephew of George and Major Townley.

Newspaper Clipping for John A Townley of Cincinnati, Ohio

Unfortunately, his frequent appearances in print lead to confusing this John with my fourth great grandfather. My John was a bricklayer.

Be cautious when you're looking at newspapers. Sometimes errors creep in.

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John Townley's Newspaper Appearances

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, John’s family rarely makes the news. In 1844, John Townley had some letters to pick up at the post office. I don't know who sent him mail, but I wish I could learn. However, this seemingly meaningless entry helped me to continue confirming John's residency in Cincinnati.

In 1848, the local newspaper indicated that John Townley served as a juror. To ensure that this an entry for my 4th great-grandfather I searched for any other John in Cincinnati at this time and discovered a John who was 17-years-old. This young John would go on to appear in the newspaper repeatedly as an insurance man and socialite (the same one I mentioned above). Meanwhile, it’s nice to know I found at least something for my John.

In 1848, John Townley served as a juror in a court case. I could research the court case to add a little more flavor when I'm writing about John Townley's in his family history. But this detail doesn't answer my goals, as stated in my genealogy research plan.

In the 1860s, John Townley's children began to show up in the newspapers. Asa becomes a surveyor in Kentucky while Richard becomes a police officer. While really fun, these articles didn't help answer my question. Again, I have to stay hyper-focused on my research plan.

While I had hoped to gather more information from this time period, particularly land transfers or social news notices, I struck out.

If you want your own genealogy research plan template,

get a copy of my Research Plan Template and print it out or use it online.

Did Newspapers Help Me Crack My Genealogy Brick Wall

In short, I did not find the definitive proof I had hoped to uncover.

However, the beauty of newspaper research is that sometimes you can get to know your ancestors so well that when you're walking down the street, you can pick them out of the crowd.

Not only is it clear that John Townley and the other Townley men in Cincinnati did not interact socially, but they have dramatically different social-economic statuses.

I'm thankful that I went and explored newspapers. I'm disappointed that my ancestor didn't get a lot of ink, but I still learned a little more than I had initially started out with.

The Unexpected Discovery in Newspaper Research

As mentioned in a previous post, Townley descendants desperately want to establish their relationships with the famous Colonel Richard Townley. Col. Townley was an original settler of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and was active in all the politics there.

The other reason John Townley's descendants want to establish this connection is to link to English aristocracy. On 8 Aug 18451845, a newspaper notice called Townleys to show up in Newark, New Jersey, for an important meeting. They should bring all of their lineage documentation. A fortune and large estate were at stake.

Townley Estate Meeting Elizabethtown, New Jersey August 1845

Unfortunately, George, Major, Edward, and John Townley are all living in Cincinnati in 1845. Presumably, George, Major, and Edward's close kin would present their ancestry. If John had relatives in Essex County, New Jersey, hopefully, they would have attended the meeting. And if such a meeting happened, then the question becomes would the estate appear in US courts or in England?

The interest in Townley inheritance continued to show up in newspapers from 1875 to 1888. John A Townley was connected with attempting to establish his lineage to these claims.

However, I'm still confused about whether the 1845 and 1875 cases are the same or separate entities.

Research into the Lawrence-Townley Estates and the 1845 Townley estate will be tabled until a future date. Unless some volunteer gets curious and looks this information up on my behalf.

Time to Update the Research Plan

Once again, it's time to updated the genealogy research plan. I have included these newspaper discovered my research plan. To view what my research plan looks like now, click the link below.

More About Newspapers

Continue learning about newspapers and other resources for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.

Review the John Townley Brick Wall Series

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