Is there a resource that can help you write about a day in the life of your ancestors without you being a professional historian? Yes! Newspapers have you covered.
When you’re trying to repaint the world of your ancestor, turn to newspapers. Explore the editions released on the day, or near the day, their birth, marriage, or death dates. What was happening in the world and their neighborhood?
This blog post will explain what to look for. This video will show you how actually to find the fuel for your story.
Explore A Day in the Life of Your Ancestor -- a Page by Page System
As you search newspapers for details on or around a day in the life of your ancestors, you’ll find potential articles in the following news sections.
Look for the big stories of the world or the local level. Search for things that your ancestors may have discussed or had a direct impact on their lives. Look for the historic (holds value today), the economic (crashes, depressions, etc.), and the interesting (which is entirely subjective).
What businesses and services are advertised in the newspaper. Discover the treatments (or purported treatments) for ailments, clothing styles, transportation, and entertainment. What might have interested your family members at that particular time in their life? (What tickles your funny bone or shows how times have changed?)
Businesses weren’t the only advertisers. What were people seeking? What jobs were available, and what rates were offered? Did your ancestor have this type of job?
In addition to job postings and personal want ads, the things folks sold also provides insight into your ancestor’s world. What vehicles did people wish to sell, and for how much? What were the property values?
In the 1700s and 1800s, people turned to the newspapers to review or predict the weather. Discover the temperatures, precipitation, and weather-related disasters that impacted a day in the life of your ancestors.
Special Interest Items:
These features and snippets reveal the entertainment offerings, economy, and technological advances (and predictions). Look for pieces that enhance your understanding of the sights, sounds, and thoughts in the community where your ancestors lived.
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The tidbits of who visited whom, who hosted which events, and more appear in the society news. If your ancestor appears here, you have genealogy gold!!! (There might also be interesting stories if they don’t appear in these sections.)
Government and Politics:
Read the paper looking for laws proposed and passed for the city, county, state, and national levels. Consider how these might have affected your ancestor’s world. Also, pick up on various leaders' names as these details help you anchor your ancestor to a particular point in time.
Stock Market Reports:
If your ancestor was an investor, sold agricultural products, or in business, the stock market pages may provide insight into their world. Few know how to read these newspaper sections, so do so with caution. The purpose is to paint an economic picture of your ancestor’s daily life.
From cartoons to letters to the editor, or newspaper editor’s thoughts, these items can reveal the humor and the mindset of your ancestor’s community. Please don’t assume they agree with any particular story, but including these items in your writing and research provide depth to your stories.
Watch this video.
Piece Together Your Ancestor’s Story
After nosing around the newspapers, you will have a better understanding of your ancestor’s world. You can then write a better story for your family history essays, school projects, genealogy society newsletter submission, blog posts, or the eventual ‘book.’
Here’s a sample of how I did this for the birth of an ancestor:
Four months after the overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaiian when the situation was still in flux, and on the day, a patrol car crashed into a streetcar, injuring many and causing fire damage to a city building. Evaline was born on 13 April 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio, when heavy rains and strong winds had troubled the city.
Her parents brought her into a world with covered wagons, horses and buggies, barouches, trains on the railroad, and the possibility of electric engines. Evaline was their first child.
I still want to include newspaper ad finds for a men’s negligee, a woman’s cape, and different medical treatments. If I don’t incorporate these items in word, I can use the ads to decorate my family history projects' pages or video screens.
Get started exploring newspapers with more depth. You’ll turn your stories from boring to fascinating with little to no effort!