Newspapers, the Social Media of our Ancestors

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Social Media

As Amy Johnson Crow said in her introduction to this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, newspapers were social media for our ancestors. I have found a lot of little tidbits about my ancestors and the ancestors of my husband in newspapers through the years. From one-line records of births and deaths to short, one-paragraph announcements, and longer stories, I have gleaned a lot of information about how my ancestors lived. Reading between the lines, I’ve been able to feel their sorrow and celebrate the milestones in their lives. Some articles have helped to solve a few of my brick walls. Here are a few of the interesting articles I have found in newspapers.

Grandma Ferguson (Lola Pope) spoke of going to Colorado with her husband, Tom, where he was to work on a ranch. Shortly after they arrived, the cook died. With no one to cook for the ranch hands, Lola was pressed into service. When I met her, she was a little, five-foot, petite, gray-haired lady. Can you imagine this little lady in the midst of a bunch of rough ranch hands? For years we never knew when the Fergusons left Fort Scott, Kansas, or where they went. Eventually, the social media of the day answered the question. A newspaper article in the 15 Aug 1901 Fort Scott Weekly Tribune¹ announced their departure for Colorado. The newspaper obviously made a mistake with Tom’s first name, but the rest of the article is accurate. Likewise, a newspaper article in the 28 Dec 1902 Fort Scott Republican² showed the newly married couple, Samuel and Grace Ferguson, left for Cripple Creek, Colorado, where they were to reside. Can we presume they were moving close to Tom and Lola? Most likely they were. I believe the time and location of the mystery may have been solved. It appears that the newspaper had difficulty with names. In addition to erring with Tom’s name, Samuel’s wife was named Grace, not Grave.

I never met my grandfather, William Everett Lane, because he died before I was born. On 16 Feb 1934, the article below was printed in the Carutherville, Democrat-Argus.³ The accident sounds horrendous. Fortunately, everyone survived the crash. Sadly, five years later, my grandfather Will was killed in an accident when he drove into the path of a Greyhound bus. Can we presume he was a terrible driver? Possibly, but we will never know. 

Garland Smith, my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather, lost his pocketbook at the Illinois State Fair. I wrote about it here. We know about his loss due to an advertisement he placed in the Daily Illinois State Journal ⁴ on 5 Oct 1854. Perhaps he planned on buying livestock, horses, or machinery. Why else would he carry that much money on him? It is doubtful that he recovered his money. Unfortunately, Garland Smith died in the Shelby County Almshouse, Shelby County, Illinois. Could the loss of his pocketbook have placed the family into a spiral of poverty? It’s hard to imagine but possible.

My husband’s grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Mitchell, married Thomas Morgan Parry on 17 Jul 1900. Two days earlier, the announcement below appeared in the Daily Youngstown Vindicator.⁵ On 12 Jul 1900, her father, Richard, died. Her mother had died four years earlier. It seems the couple rushed into the marriage due to the death of her father. Like all newly married couples, you would hope they began their life together with love and hope. The use of the word terminate in the announcement, unfortunately, foretold the end of the marriage because Tom later abandoned the family.

My great-grandfather, Joseph Burt, was a well-digger, as were his sons. As he moved from one well-digging to the next, articles frequently appeared in the Bland Courier. The article that ran on 1 Sep 1922 reported on the accident where he almost lost several fingers. It is rumored that Joseph dug wells for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition informally known as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Is this a family myth? I don’t know, but it will be fun to explore this further.

And lastly, while it pains my heart, my 6th great-grandfather, Henry Turner, was an enslaver in Caswell County, North Carolina. This was confirmed by a notice appearing on 30 Dec 1824 in the Roanoke Advertiser⁷ shown below. It’s sad to know this about an ancestor, but such is life.

Those of us who research our ancestors have found that newspaper articles from ages ago help us to fill out the detail of the lives of our ancestors. I’m so thankful we have these tools available to us. No doubt our ancestors will use Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms when researching us. Think of all the fun they will have.