Newspapers, periodicals and biographical records are the most valuable sources of information that you’ll come across in your family history research. They really provide the best biographical insight into a person’s life and provide the big picture of what their life long accomplishments were.
I first became interested in genealogy when I came across a published family history that was written over 125 years ago. It was dictated and recorded by hand as an oral history just before my Great Uncle passed away and it provided a great deal of information that I was able to use in my research. Without it, I would have ended up spending years to track down the same level of information. It provided a very interesting accounting of my Great Uncle’s life as well as what life was like in the various places that he lived.
So many of us focus our efforts and energies trying to locate individuals in census, birth, marriage and death records. For me, the holy grail in genealogy is in finding the stories and history of someone’s life. This information can be found in newspaper obituaries and stories, periodicals (trade magazines, etc.) and local published histories.
Consider this paragraph that I came across in an obituary for one of my ancestors (person, place names have been removed):
Mr. Jones was active in many of the affairs of our city. He was a member of the Trustees of City College for 32 years, serving as vice president for 26 years. From 1898 to 1934 he was a trustee of the St. Paul’s Church and was president of the YMCA Board of Directors at the time of the construction of the present building. He was a member of the Rotary Club, the Masonic Lodge, and the Knights Templar, and a charter member of the Lakeside Country Club.
You can see that this is an unbelievable wealth of information. Obviously he was a fairly active gentleman, but just in this one paragraph, I have discovered many of the groups that he was a member.
This provides me with additional sources to go search for more information. Who knows, it’s possible that the Country Club might have a photo of him, the YMCA might have more biographical information and undoubtedly the college would have a document or two about some of the activities that he was involved in.
One more note, you’ll need to be aware of possible typos and mistakes in third party sources like published records. Third party sources are just that, they are taken from another source of information and mistakes can be made by the publisher. If you find something that seems incorrect, try to validate that piece of information with at least one other source.
I suggest looking for these types of records before you start poking around in census, birth, marriage and death records. Ancestry.com is a great place to search newspaper and periodical collections.
You’ll find much more in depth information and you just never know what interesting tidbit of information you’ll uncover about that long lost relative or ancestor.