Newspapers! It’s newspapers. They’re full of details you don’t find anywhere else (although sometimes colored by a reporter’s perspective). Because our Find Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers webinar is coming up April 21, I’ll let my third-great-grandfather Thomas Frost demonstrate why I love this resource.
You first heard about Thomas when I blogged about his sensational divorce (a Cincinnati Daily Enquirer newspaper article provided the clue to look for divorce records). On Nov. 19, 1879, two papers detailed the charges, although with different sympathies:
The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer article is at the top and the Cincinnati Daily Star article is below it.
Thomas’ life didn’t improve from there.
The Daily Enquirer reported March 8, 1881, on his visit with the children in an article titled “A Frosty Day.” Mary was supposed to make herself scarce before he arrived, but instead she hid in the house. She jumped out when Thomas reprimanded one of the children and “made things rather lively … Cold water, hot water, pokers and any amount of angry words were brought into requisition … .”
Then things got even more crazy with this March 16, 1882, headline:
It would be thrilling only to a genealogist. (Or maybe a serial killer.)
It appears my ancestor had taken up with a woman, Mary Bergan, who’d left her husband (or he left her, as the Cincinnati Daily Gazette claimed) and was staying in the European boarding house. The landlady said Thomas told her Bergan was his niece, and he became “desperate” when she was with another man.
On the night in question, Bergan was hanging out with James Murphy, John Collins, and another roomer named Birdie Huston. Thomas waited in the downstairs hallway for the party to leave. Then he leapt from behind the stairs and confronted Murphy. A scuffle ensued and Thomas was cut on the head.
Police detained Bergan, Murphy, Collins and Huston at another lodging house. Collins took the blame for the cutting, with a razor he’d grabbed from Murphy’s pocket.
The Cincinnati Daily Gazette carried some different details, including a gory description of the wound. It was an “ugly-looking” two-inch gash positioned “just back and a little above the left temple.” An inch-long fracture was visible in Thomas’ skull.
From articles about other relatives, I’ve learned about a kitchen fire, child’s birthday party, barfight, commitment (for one who’d become “violently insane”) and other events in their lives that probably wouldn’t make the news today. Where court records are missing, newspapers informed about the bootlegging arrest and trial of my great-grandfather (not the one in the Frost line).
In our Find Your Ancestors in Online Newspapers webinar, you’ll learn the best websites and techniques to search for articles with this kind of detail about your ancestors.
The webinar is on April 21, and all registrants receive a copy of the presentation slides and access to view the webinar again as often as you want. Find out more about this webinar and sign up at Family Tree Shop!