Newspapers play important role in ancestry research
April 14, 2023
Those enticing ads depicting people immigrating to a better life in the USA sponsored by Ancestry.com have succeeded in convincing millions of people to submit DNA samples as a means of finding their roots. We search for stories of the past, details about where we came from, health histories and more. In all of this, we hope to learn how our ancestors survived to pass their genes on to us, but we need hard facts to establish the basis of our stories.
The New York Library website says, “Newspapers can be one of the most important resources in genealogy research, and provide dimension, color, texture, and character to the names and dates on a family tree.”
Christopher Welker, the archivist at the Iron Range Research Center (IRRC), agrees. He spoke at the Genealogy Brown Bag lunch session held at the Cloquet Public Library on April 6.
“These are some of the kinds of newspaper articles you can find related to your family; namely, birth and marriage notices that have been published in newspapers. Obviously, obituaries are still very common,” Welker said.
For a family researcher, newspaper notices and articles provide documented proof of information. Welker pointed out that newspapers offer possible additional data about sports awards, business dealings, real estate transfers, scandals, crimes and social events.
“When you look at the last 150 years, the turn of the century, that was a staple for a lot of smaller hometown newspapers,” he said. “Who was visiting whom; who was out of town visiting family on the other side of the state.”
Welker offered a number of options for gaining access to past editions of newspapers in Minnesota. He explained that the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) had maintained microfiche files of numerous Minnesota newspapers at their site in St. Paul. For the past 10 years or so, they have been digitizing many of the newspapers.
“The MHS now administers an online database of Minnesota newspaper content from all across the state. The website is online, so anyone who has internet can access this content for free,” Welker said. “There are currently 424 unique titles on the website.” (Editor’s note: There are no Carlton County papers digitized yet, although there are a number of Duluth newspapers, past and present.)
Another search resource is eLibrary Minnesota (elibrarymn.org). The ProQuest US and Newspaper Source databases on the website contain several national and regional newspaper archives dating back to the 1980s. These resources also can be accessed through the Arrowhead Library System using a library card number from the comfort of home or at the library.
For the researcher who wants to delve deeply into national newspapers, the Library of Congress created Chronicling America, a digitized database that contains information about national newspapers from 1690 to the present. The MHS has received grants to digitize Minnesota newspaper collections for the database. The MHS chooses several newspapers from across Minnesota to add to the website with each grant they receive. Access to this website is free.
Welter said that one of the most widely known databases is Newspapers.com, a subsidiary of Ancestry. The program charges a monthly fee; however, if the local library has a subscription to the website, members are allowed to use it at the library.
The IRRC focuses on maintaining family history resources focusing on citizens from the Iron Range, but their center holds numerous state databases as well. The public is free to visit the Minnesota Discovery Center and explore the multiple services and resources. Their free online genealogical database can be accessed at http://www.ironrangeresearchcenter.org. The staff at the center is always willing to assist individuals in their quest for information.
Welter stressed the importance of using newspapers in genealogical research.
“If you’re searching a topic, if you’re searching local history, if you’re searching family history — you just never know unless you look, what you might end up finding in a newspaper coverage,” he said.
Keiko Satomi, Cloquet adult services librarian, said the genealogy series started in January and has been well-received, with an average attendance of about 30 people.
Welter will return to the Cloquet Library for a Brown Bag lunch session 12-1 p.m. April 20, "Creating Family Archives: A Step-by-Step Guide for Saving Your Memories for Future Generations.” The focus will be on organizing and saving genealogical materials.
The final session, presented by previous library director Mary Lukkarila starts at noon May 18 and will focus on Finnish genealogy research.
Satomi said the library plans to resume the series in the fall.
Local in-person resources
Want to find your family history in local newspapers?
The Carlton County Historical Society has bound volumes of old newspapers, including the Carlton County Vidette, Pine Knot, Moose Lake Star Gazette, Barnum Herald, Carlton County News Graphic, Arrowhead Leader, Moose Lake Star and Barnum Advocate.
CCHS also has many early obituaries, marriage, birth, death and cemetery records, Census materials, yearbooks, telephone books, naturalization records and other biographical files.
The Cloquet Public Library has microfilm of:
• Pine Knot: 1890-2002
• Cloquet Journal: 1994-2002
• Pine Journal: 2002-2015
• Duluth News Tribune: 1978-1980
• Carlton County News Graphic 1950-1968
• Barnum Advocate: 1893-1894
• Barnum Gazette 1898-1899
• Barnum Herald 1965-1976
• Moose Lake Star Gazette 1964-1976
The library also has an obituary index for the Pine Knot and Pine Journal available at