Volumes are written about individuals who had significant impact on our world. It is easy to learn about kings and conquerors and prominent scientists, inventors, politicians and business leaders. But what about the rest of us?
What about the laborers, tradesmen, merchants, farmers, homemakers? What were the local implications of historic events? How was everyday life affected by political realignments or troop movements, or inventions or even weather?
Newspapers. That’s the best answer I’ve found so far. Many of us scour newspapers for obituaries, birth and wedding announcement, etc. But don’t neglect to look at the entire paper. You’ll find the entire spectrum of life. More than just the hard news, there are cultural events, ads showing styles of clothing and home furnishings, opinion pages and even comics in some papers.
Our ancestors were more quickly affected by local events than by national events. The newspaper is where you’ll find the things that were shaping their everyday lives. And don’t forget foreign language papers. I recently wrote about finding obituaries in Chicago’s Czech language paper.
Local historical societies generally retain newspaper archives. If they’ve been microfilmed, you may be able to borrow them via inter-library loan to avoid travel expenses.
Chronicling America is a wonderful online resource for digitized newspapers from 1836 through 1922. (Copyright laws prohibit later issues.) There is also a directory of US newspapers dating from 1690 to the present.
The best part is that these digitized papers are searchable! Select the state and the range of years; then type in the surname that you’re looking for, and press the search button. If that name appears, you’ll see it and the entire page on which it is mentioned.
My next post will be some detail about using Chronicling America.