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December 2011 Newsletter

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Newspapers Are the New Core Tool for Family History Research

We have never had this level of access to family history information before.

As genealogy boomed at the turn of the last century, genealogists relied on corresponding with relatives and visits to local registrars to document and build their family trees.

San Jose Mercury (California), 16 March 1912, page 2.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries genealogists were regularly sharing their findings as published books. Library collections grew and genealogists used these printed sources to trace their family history. By the 1960s, with the practical application of microfilming original records and the census, genealogists found that they could research from their home towns using microfilm copies of original records at their local libraries.

Genealogy's popularity exploded in the late 20th century when Alex Haley's book Roots: The Saga of an American Family was made into a mini-series that riveted the nation in 1977. Interest in family history soared. That same year saw the introduction of the first commercially successful personal computers, and within 15 years home computers and Internet access became a staple of our lives—making it easy to research and communicate with family.

The largest groups of genealogical records are: Census; Vital Records; and Newspapers. All of these have been digitized and made available online over the past decade.

Genealogists once avoided newspapers because massive bound volumes and large microfilm collections with no indexes made newspapers too hard to use. However, today's online newspaper archives, with their huge amounts of data made instantly accessible thanks to powerful search engines, have opened up a whole new world for genealogists.

Early American newspapers are especially important because they are often the only surviving record of the births, marriages and other events in our ancestors' lives. America's newspapers were published every day of our country's history.

GenealogyBank is fortunate to have digitized and placed online more than 5,700 newspapers from 1690 to today, from all 50 states—unlocking for the first time more than one billion articles and records.

The following newspaper articles provide a good example of how well we can trace a family's history by researching in newspaper archives.

Last week, in honor of Thanksgiving, we looked in GenealogyBank's newspaper archives for articles about Peregrine White (the first Pilgrim born in New England) and his descendants. It was amazing to see that newspapers had published articles about the family for more than three hundred years!

Coverage of the White family begins with the obituary of Peregrine White, identifying him as "the First Englishman born in New England"—he was born on board the Mayflower in Cape Cod Harbor in November 1620! His obituary was printed by the Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 24 July-31 July 1704, page 2:

Continuing to search for Peregrine White in our archives, we found this photograph of the actual cradle that he was placed in after he was born. This was printed by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 March 1960, page 84:

Then quickly we found an article published almost three hundred years after Peregrine's birth that announced the birth of twin sons: Walter Thomas White (1914-1998) and Pierre Volney White (1914-1999). The birth announcement included a photograph showing four generations of the White family. This was printed in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 May 1915, Section 3, page 9:

Then we found the twins' obituaries in GenealogyBank: Pierre's published in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 9 Nov 1999, page B-10; and Walter's published in the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 1 August 1998, page D-9:

Peregrine White's descendants were understandably proud to have such a famous ancestor in their family history. His name has been passed down and remembered in the family, and the story of his birth kept alive. He has been the subject of many newspaper articles: GenealogyBank has well over 4,500 articles about him!

When Mary Alice (Haskell) Morey (1928-2011) died this past summer, her obituary prominently mentioned that she was a direct descendant of Peregrine White. Her obituary was printed by the Natick Bulletin & TAB (Natick, Massachusetts), 22 July 2011, page 18:

Read her complete obituary in GenealogyBank.

It's abundantly clear: newspapers are the "new" core tool for genealogists.

What's old is new again.