Wednesday, February 27, 2013

U.S. Research Tip: The (News)Paper Trail

Most people go straight to census records and other government resources for vital statistics about their ancestors: where they lived, the "BMDs" (birth, marriage, and death dates), and so on.

My ancestors in 1844
(Ok so the printer couldn't spell "Married"...)
But if you know where they lived, local newspapers can be a treasure-trove.  In the United States newspapers in major cities were common well before the American Revolution, and by the early 1800's even small towns had at least one and often several supporting the community.  In those days newspapers were the only source of news besides word-of-mouth and a sometimes unreliable mail service, and a local paper served a vital need.   If your ancestors were part of any community, there's a chance that they're mentioned somewhere in a local newspaper.

If newspapers for the places you're researching have survived, a local county or state historical or genealogical society will know about it.  Often state or local libraries will have copies already on microfilm and if you can't visit in person they will know someone who can do the research for a small fee.   Subscription sites like or GenealogyBank are starting to offer images of many newspaper archives online, but before dropping money check if your local library already has a subscription to those or to ProQuest.  Or check out the free Library of Congress digital newspaper collection.

A local paper would usually carry marriage and death announcements (or even an obituary, if you're lucky) for subscribers.  You can confirm BMD dates, or even find other clues for your search.  What church did they attend and what records may have survived there?  Who else attended their wedding or funeral?  What did they die of?  What family relationships are mentioned?

But newspapers offer much more than dry facts - they give snapshots into our ancestors' lives.  Sometimes they're sensational... how would you like to find your ancestor in the story under one of these headlines (no, these aren't my ancestors, they're just taken from a sampling of the St. Louis Republic between 1888 and 1900):

Another tip:  don't rely just on the automated searches for the digital archives.  They're good, but they're not perfect at deciphering the old and often faded print.  Do your own manual search through newspapers over the time your ancestors lived there.  At the very least you'll understand more about your ancestors' lifestyle and what they were interested in.  And if you're lucky, you can find a hidden legacy from your ancestors that will help bring them alive in your records.

My oldest find - my 5x-great-grandmother's death in 1803.

Apparently in 1895 my ancestors were the place to rusticate!

A moment of my ancestor's farming life from 1844

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hannah Vance Crawford School

In the February 2009 Vance Family Association Newsletter I wrote an article "A School to Honor Hannah Vance". The school is part of the Colonel Crawford Local School District in North Robinson, Ohio.

When I wrote the article I had some pictures of the school that I was not able to use due to space considerations. Here they are:

The top picture is the Hannah Vance Elementary school. The bottom shows the center with the William Crawford Intermediate School on the left, and the Hannah Crawford Elementary School on the right.

The district's website gives the following description of the district:

"The Colonel Crawford Local Schools is a district housing 960 students grade pre-k-12. The district, covering 120 square miles is located in rural Crawford County about one hour north of Columbus, Ohio and 30 minutes west of Mansfield, Ohio. Colonel Crawford is a result of the consolidation of the Leesville, North Robinson, Sulphur Springs and Whetstone Schools.

The facility is located just south of the village of North Robinson. Pre-k-8 building The William and Hannah Crawford Schools was opened in 2006 and is located just south east of the 9-12 Colonel Crawford High School opened in 1960.

The Colonel Crawford Local Schools has a strong tradition of academic and athletic programs. Colonel Crawford is a proud member of the North Central Athletic Conference and the Ohio High School Athletic Association."

I took the pictures the day I visited the the then district superintendent, Ted Bruner, at the school district. He gave me a tour and showed me one of the schools that was replaced by the one built in 2006. Colonel Crawford was captured where the front yard of that school stands. As a descendant of Colonel Crawford, I found that particularly interesting. The district stands in the area where Colonel Crawford fought his last battle and died.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Vance History "Travel Guide"

Have you ever read something about Vance history and wondered just where in the world it happened?  Ever come across a town of Vance or a Vance Peak and wondered how it got its name?  Or have you ever planned a trip and wondered if there was anything to see there related to your ancestry?  If the answer to any of those is "Yes", then the World Guide to Vance History is for you!  Click on the link under "Useful Information" on the right hand side of this blog and discover the hidden world of Vance history.

Don't worry... we're not going into competition with the major travel companies.  This is a community project to collect together in one place a reference to all the spots around the world associated with the Vance surname and its history.  Along the way we're also collecting stories, legends, and facts of interest about these places to highlight their role in Vance ancestry. 

But we need your help!  The first draft of this Guide has 47 locations in 7 countries, and we focused on collecting historical locations in England, Scotland, and Ireland first so you'll see we have a lot of entries for those countries already.  But you'll also notice we've only barely started - or haven't started at all - in other countries yet.  What Vance-related locations do YOU know of?  We invite you ALL to contribute - this will be a massive undertaking before it's anywhere close to finished, so we need your help to collect up all the many locations around the world that have an association with Vance history.  I think you'll get the idea if you take a look at the current version of the Guide.

But for now, even as a first draft, enjoy the World Guide to Vance History!