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FAMILY TIES: Tracing your ancestry
by Dan Burrows
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Newspapers
     The Newburgh Free Library and its local history staff put together a three booklet set in the early 1980's which is available in some nearby libraries, but for the most part one or more volumes of the set is missing or unknown to the library staff.
     Volume one consists of a listing, first by county and then alphabetically of all known newspapers held by these local Orange, Sullivan, or Ulster County libraries and other institutions.  This is useful when trying to quickly discover where copies of a certain newspaper can be found.
     Volume two consists of a listing, first by county, and then by year of the same papers.  For instance, if your ancestor died in 1892 in Orange County, it will show you all the available newspapers in 1892 and where you may find a copy for research, usually on microfilm.
     Volume three consists of a history, in the form of a diagram, of each newspaper showing where it originated and what it became.  It also shows the various mergers that took place between different newspapers. 
     Browsing through microfilms of old newspapers can often make you feel as though you are experiencing history as it was happening.    You will find that different newspapers give totally different perspectives on the same events -- a common practice even today -- but with the lack of other news media in the 1800's and early 1900's,  it can easily be seen how misconceptions of the true facts evolved. 
     Newspapers, needless to say, are a great genealogical source.  One can find obituaries, marriage and birth announcements, engagement announcements and wedding stories,  legal notices, notices of thanks and news items about families.   While the listing of vital records such as births, marriages and deaths are the most common helpful research tools, newspapers also reflect the day-to-day lives of our ancestors and the environment they lived in.  It should be remembered that getting the facts exactly correct was not the priority of older newspapers.  Much genealogical hearsay (also known as family tradition) was published when family members gave information about their ancestors.  Weekly newspapers, as a general rule, contained more genealogical information than the dailies.
     The following bibliography of newspapers should be available at most major libraries.  I have truthfully never used any of these, but after writing this article, I certainly intend to locate copies and take a look.  Other areas of the country may not be as fortunate as Orange County in having a "Union List" prepared such as those described above and locating the local newspapers of the past can be difficult.  The first step would be to consult the published county histories to learn the names of the newspapers for that area and then to consult the following bibliographies:
History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690 - 1820 (2 Vols.) 
by Clarence Saunders, Brigham, 1962

American Newspapers, 1821 - 1936 
by Winifred Gregory (editor), 1937

The Ayer Directory of Newspapers and Periodicals
(An Annual publication of present newspapers)

     Also contact the current newspaper operating in the city or county where your ancestors lived. Many newspapers maintain their own archive or library of past issues and if you are fortunate, they have preserved copies of the other newspapers in that same area.
     A great research tip that has helped many researchers is to place  an ad in a local newspaper where your ancestors used to live. This ad might bring unexpected and rewarding results.  A letter to a small town local newspaper might even get you an article with even better returns.
     The following two definitions are very important to be familiar with when reading through old newspapers. They are used frequently and their definitions are a constant stumbling block for many researchers.
Instant Often abbreviated "inst." means of or occurring in the present or current month.

Ultimo  Often abbreviated "ult." means of or occurring in the month preceding the present.

     Using old newspapers and the tools mentioned above that lead you to them can give you some very rewarding results to your genealogical or historical research.  You will find it very difficult not to read many other articles whose headlines catch you eye.  Reading about yourself or people you know ( or knew way back when) in the birth or marriage announcements and taking note of the events going on in the world at the same time can be quite entertaining and good way to kill an afternoon at the library. 
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