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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Social News

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

My favorite part of any newspaper is the social news. Weddings, bridal showers, graduations, anniversary parties, and more are celebrated on those pages. Of course, sad events like illnesses, deaths, and funerals are also marked there. The nature of that content has basically been the same for most local newspapers, and throughout the last 100+ years.

The items in those newspapers offer many of details about the community and the network of people whose lives happened there. They are therefore a great source for learning about your family and their connections to others. Even a minor mention might be a breadcrumb that allows you to find the next one, and so on, This approach can augment what you already know about your family history, especially if your family lived in the newspaper's coverage area for a while and therefore was well-known there.

A bonus of these sources is they can also connect a person from one town to someone in another place, near or far. In this way, these printed tidbits can help solve mysteries.

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Cletus Johnson attended a wedding three counties away. Maybe Mrs. B.F. Cartwright and son visited a cousin in the hospital of a nearby city. Or this list 32 people were recent out-of-town visitors to attend the 50th anniversary party of a local couple. In each of those cases, trying to find out what event they attended and how they are connected might yield big clues. Or not, in all honesty. But this is the investigative part of genealogy that we love.

The clipping below was printed in the May 24, 1940, edition of the The Humboldt Republican from northwest Iowa. The information looks fairly insignificant at first. Only one name appears in those two sentences. But it's example of something that might actually offer the solution to a road block.

Newspaper clipping from 1940

Mrs. Oscar Olson was Jessina "Jessie" Underberg. She had been born in Norway and emigrated alone and single in 1893 at the age of 18. Her destination on the ship manifest was Bode, Iowa, which is 14 miles from Humboldt (where the paper was printed) and just 6 miles from Livermore (where Jessie and Oscar were living in 1940) . It's often the case where the parents and siblings of a lone immigrant are unknown to that person's descendants. If that's true for Jessie, finding the 82-year-old woman who died in mid-May of 1940 should lead to one of Jessie's parents. I'd start looking for candidates within day-trip distance of Livermore, and go from there.

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Humboldt County, Iowa, is comprised of a few small towns and a lot of farmland. Although there are surely many Olsons in that area, there's a higher confidence that this Oscar Olson in this remote place is the one married to Jessie. Oscar's identity would be harder to narrow down if you were searching a Minneapolis newspaper, for example. But if you're stumped, following even the smallest of clues might be all you have left.

  • If you were searching an online newspaper site, the search terms to have returned this result would have been limited: location, date, and only the husband's name. Remember that it was typical until very recently that women were referred to as Mrs. 'Husband'. It was also frequent that a man's name was abbreviated to a common name or even just initials. Harmon Wainwright might appear in the paper as "H.O. Wainwright" or "Harm Wainwright."

  • Narrowing the date too much might cause you to miss results. Those "25 Years Ago" and similar columns reference much earlier dates. So an item from 1900 might show up in a 1975 paper under "75 Years Ago."

Finally, should anyone be playing along at home, the aunt in the riddle above is Helga Underberg. She passed away on May 16, 1940, and is buried in Bode. Her headstone says she was age 85. So maybe not everything you read in print is true...but these sources can still lead you to the details you might be searching for.


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