Using Newspapers to Research Your Ancestors: Beyond Obituaries

Many family history researchers know how useful obituaries published in newspapers can be. But did you know there are a lot of other things in newspapers that can help with your research? Below we will cover a few of the newspaper items that can also have information about your relatives.


If your ancestor owned their own business, newspapers may have mentioned it. Below we see an article about the owner of a grocery store that was forced into bankruptcy. This can tell us more about an ancestor's business ventures.

Article about grocery store owner forced into bankruptcy.
Berkshire County Eagle (Pittsfield MA) 23 Nov 1915 p. 8


Newspapers sometimes reported on who was sick or injured in the area they covered. In this example, we have a listing of people suffering from the flu during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. This gives us insight into and humanizes the effects of the pandemic.

A list of people sick with the flu
Berkshire County Eagle (Pittsfield MA) 16 Oct. 1918 p. 10


The activities of clubs and other organizations often appeared in newspapers. In this example, news of the formation of a new chapter of a fraternal benefit society appears. This tells us more about what the people listed did with their time and what they may have believed in.

Article about formation of a new chapter of a fraternal benefit society.
Berkshire County Eagle (Pittsfield MA) 16 Apr. 1902 p. 16

Military Service

If you have an ancestor who served in the military, there may be information about their service. Below is a list of sick and injured soldiers arriving in Massachusetts during the Civil War. From this we can learn more about the lives of the soldiers and what their service was like.

A list of sick and injured soldiers traveling from New Orleans back to their homes in Massachusetts.
Boston Daily Evening Transcript 18 Aug 1863


Many newspapers had social pages that had information about local residents' activities. This example reports on a surprise party thrown for a resident of Pittsfield. From this we learn more about what her social life was like.

An article about a surprise party thrown for a woman.
Berkshire County Eagle (Pittsfield MA) 6 Mar. 1917 p. 5

Learn More

The above examples are a small sampling of what you can find out about your ancestors in newspapers. To learn more about accessing newspapers at the BPL and beyond, check out these resources: