Family Trails: Your Ancestors in the News

By Valerie LaRobardier

Newspapers can deliver tremendous value to genealogists. Besides finding obituaries or news about your ancestor, the stories can help flesh out what life was like in that time and place.

The news also points to primary documentation with legal notices, advertising for estate sales, foreclosures and bankruptcy lists. We use marriage and death announcements as substitute vital records. Letters left at the post office establish that a person was in a place at least long enough to receive mail, and likely died or moved on before the notice.

Scattered newspaper extracts can be found on many county sites at the GenWeb Project, as well as in genealogical society quarterlies. But if you want to cast a wider net, you need to search an archive.

Many newspapers become brittle and difficult to preserve, such as this issue of the Beacon Daily Herald from 1915. (Fulton History)

The most prominent of the digital newspaper archives are Newspapers.com (which has 18 million pages from 124 New York newspapers dating to 1785, heavy on Buffalo titles), GenealogyBank.com (886 New York papers dating to 1730) and FultonHistory.com (at least 1,000 papers).

The first two require paid subscriptions but are easier to navigate and have tools to save and reprint quality images. But Fulton History is still truly remarkable, a labor of love by Tom Tryniski, a retired engineer who lives north of Syracuse and has so far scanned from microfilm more than 43 million newspaper pages and posted them as PDFs. (His favorite is the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.)

The paid sites do not include any papers from Putnam and southern Dutchess counties, but Tom has scanned issues of the Cold Spring Recorder (1867-1934); Putnam County Courier (1849-1988); Putnam County Republican (1882-1946); and Beacon Daily Herald (1913-1927). More recent  copies of the Recorder (later the Putnam County News & Recorder) can be browsed on microfilm at the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring.

Unfortunately, many issues of early Highlands papers have been lost. The New York State Library in Albany has only 13 issues of the Cold Spring Journal, which was published in 1855 and 1856; two issues of the Philipstown News (from 1901 and 1904); and single copies of The Highlander, published in Garrison, and The Matteawan Enterprise (“devoted to literature, local, foreign intelligence and to the business interests of the village, town and country”), both from 1873.

Tom Tryniski, who lives near Syracuse, has scanned more than 43 million newspaper pages. (Photo by Jim Epstein/Reason)

The paid sites have basic how-to search information, but you will likely want to spend more time learning the ropes at Fulton History. It’s not as easy to navigate as it could be, but who is going to complain with all the valuable work Tom has done? He has worked daily for more than 18 years on the project and so far has posted more than three times more pages than the Library of Congress has up at its Chronicling America site — and the library received a $22 million grant.

To reach the search engine at Fulton History, click Go and Search My Archives. To browse all titles, click Go and Browse My Archives and then select Historical Newspapers United States and Canada. The subfolders are arranged alphabetically by the name of the city in which the paper was published.

Make sure to also review the Fulton History FAQ, and Kathleen O’Hara has posted an excellent tutorial at bit.ly/fulton-tutorial. Also, check out the other folders in Tom’s browse section to see if any of those have useful material for your search. And consider making a donation, which Tom uses to buy more microfilm reels to scan.

One last bit of advice: When you download clippings from any newspaper site online, make sure the source is preserved, either in the file name or within the file itself. Do not depend on memory — put the file in a folder dedicated to the individual or surname. Don’t limit yourself to the exact location, as an article may be published in a large city paper or a neighboring state. Check out the browse section of each site, go to the state listings, and see what papers are covered and for what years.

LaRobardier is a professional genealogist and president of the Dutchess County Genealogical Society. Every other month, she will discuss strategy and resources for research in Dutchess and Putnam counties and answer queries from readers. She can be reached at genealogy@highlandscurrent.com. Click here for more of her columns.


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