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How Historical Newspapers Have Helped in My Genealogy Research

Updated on May 6, 2017
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Paul was born and grew up in Wisconsin. He is married to a Thai and living in Thailand. He has Swiss, German, and Austrian ancestry.

An Old Newspaper

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The Value of Historical Newspapers

Lately, I have found the use of historical newspapers to be of great benefit in my ancestry research. My mother's side of the family is from Marshfield, Wisconsin, and just recently copies of The Marshfield Daily Herald from 1921 through 2016 and copies of the Marshfield News and Wisconsin Hub 1889-1922 have been available on ancestry.com.

By searching for names or addresses, I have been able to identify all of my cousins, great-uncles, and great-aunts. Furthermore, news articles from the early 1900s have revealed a most probable cause of my great-grandparents divorce, and also answered questions about the deaths of an uncle, great-uncle, and great-grandfather. The political, economic, and social conditions of the early and middle twentieth century are also interesting to look back upon.

In this article, I reflect on all of the useful information found in two Marshfield newspapers and how it has helped in my genealogy research.

Useful Information Found in Historical Newspapers

The Marshfield newspapers like many small town papers of their time have a tremendous amount of news about their residents. This news can be found in the form of engagement, wedding, obituary, and funeral announcements. One can also find court proceedings, military news, classifieds, and social announcements. In the papers, you will also see special features and news about accidents.

During the remainder of this article, I share interesting pieces of news about my mother's relation which I have discovered in various sections of Marshfield newspapers.

Engagement, Wedding, Obituary, and Funeral Announcements

By entering the names and addresses of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and by searching through past issues of the Marshfield Daily Herald 1920-2016, I have been able to identify many cousins and second cousins that I had forgotten or didn't know about. This information has appeared in engagement, wedding, obituary, and funeral announcements. In addition, I have learned much about these relatives' education and employment history.

Obituaries have also revealed the cause of death of many relatives. For example, I learned that one of my great-grandmothers, Anna Schmidt, died of stomach cancer and that a great-grandfather, Frank Drexler, was killed by being run over by a team of horses. My uncle, Leo, died in a nursing home by choking on food, and great-uncle, Henry J. Schmidt, died of a heart attack while driving a car.


Court Proceedings

Court proceedings have presented me with a wealth of interesting and at times shocking information about my relatives and ancestors. Announcements from the Marshfield News and Wisconsin Hub from 1913-1914 reveal a most probable cause of my great-grandparents Henry and Anna Schmidt's divorce. As early as January of 1913 and up until July of 1914, the Marshfield police were called in response to domestic violence attacks against Anna by Henry. In one instance, Susan Waldvogel, Henry's mother-in-law, called the police. On two occasions, my great-grandfather was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

I also learned that my grandfather, William Schmidt, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for robbing a bank in Unity, a small town outside of Marshfield, in 1929. Fortunately, he was released on parole after serving only five years.

Many court proceedings also reveal traffic court judgments against a lot of my cousins for speeding, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license.

Military News

I learned very much about my uncle Raymond Schmidt's military service during the Second World War and Korean War. There were numerous short articles and some with pictures in the Marshfield Herald announcing my uncle's enlistment in 1942, furloughs back to Marshfield from training sites, and duty assignments up until Uncle Raymie's discharge in 1952.

There were also numerous articles about my Aunt Sissy, Anna Foss's husband, LaVern Foss's military service during World War II. I found out that Anna and LaVern Foss married in 1945 during one of LaVern's furloughs and that a reception was held in Grandma Schmidt's home where Sissy lived.

I also found out that two of my cousins, Jerry and Darrell Foss, served in the military. Jerry was stationed in Germany with the Army, and Darrell was with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.


Classifieds

The classified news section of Marshfield newspapers also revealed interesting information about my great-grandparents, great-uncle, and grandparents. My great-grandparents 80-acre farm at route one Marshfield was listed for sale in September of 1911. My great-grandma, Theresa Drexler, also advertised bushels of apples for sale at $0.50 a bushel in 1946. Great-uncle Henry J. Schmidt had a 100-acre dairy farm outside of Marshfield and advertised an auction of cattle and machinery in 1936. Finally, I saw my grandparents, William and Pauline Schmidt, listing their house and lot at 903 N. Walnut St. in Marshfield for sale or willing to trade it for a farm in 1946.

Social Announcements

In addition to wedding and funeral notices, I read many other social announcements related to my grandparents and aunts. There were baptismal parties held by my aunts and also birthday parties scheduled for my aunts, Donna and Mary. I was also pleasantly surprised to see my name and the names of my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kuehn when we visited grandma and grandpa Schmidt for the holidays in December of 1944.

Special Features

While doing newspaper searches of relatives on my mother's side of the family, I have found some special featured articles.

The most interesting special feature appeared in a 1976 Marshfield Herald issue. It was an article about great-uncle John Drexler's wood carvings. John devoted many years of his life carving animals, U.S. Presidents, the Mona Lisa, and even a scene from the Last Supper. These carvings occupied two whole rooms of his house. I remember mom raving about John's carvings. She was so happy to receive one of his carvings after John passed away in 1979.

Another note-worthy feature was on the delinquency of my great-uncle Ed Schmidt at the age of 13. In 1909, Ed skipped school and forged a stolen check for $17.00. He was going to use the money to run away out West, but after spending a night in the woods, he decided to go back home and confess his crime.

Another feature was an article which my Aunt Mary's husband Jim Asplin wrote about his family background in 1981.


Accidents

In addition to the accidental deaths of my great-grandfather and uncle mentioned earlier in this article, I have come across many traffic accidents involving my cousins and aunt. In a very unusual accident, a bowling ball dropped from an overpass struck the windshield of a car driven by Aunt Mary. Fortunately, my aunt was not hurt in the accident.

Conclusion

News articles found about my ancestors and still living relatives have livened up ancestry research and given it new meaning. Hopefully, in the future, I can find articles about my father's relatives in other historical papers.

© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile image
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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for the comments. The dropping of the bowling ball was investigated, but subsequent articles couldn't identify who dropped the ball. Now if only all past issues of the Milwaukee Journal from 1900 until the present were online, I could find a lot more information about relatives on my father's side.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      How exciting that must be to know more about their lives than just an entry on a family tree. Those newspapers are a great resource.

      Although no one likes to think there was domestic violence or crime within their families, it is nonetheless interesting.

      Did that article say, who dropped the bowling ball? Was it kids mucking around? This type of thing still goes on and yet people feel it is something new.

      Interesting article which will help others look into the availability of newspapers as an additional resource for genealogy information.