Your Source for Understanding Historical Newspapers

By James M. Beidler

Family Tree Historical Newspapers

Looking at historical newspapers as part of your genealogical research process can be like entering a roomful of people socializing – you may hear a lot of “voices” shouting at you for attention. There are the obituaries, of course. But also columns of local reports that echo today’s “social media.” And standing items such as legal advertisements. Not to mention the advertisements from bygone days!

The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide tries to help researchers through this cacophony by taking you on an organized trip – there’s even a flowchart to aid your research! – through everything from the history of newspapers to free and for-pay websites devoted solely to historical newspapers. In addition, nearly every chapter has outtakes called “Extra! Extra!” that include newspaper-related anecdotes from a diverse set of genealogists, including African Americans and foreign researchers.

For example, New Jersey genealogist Shamele Jordon and her cousin Floyd M. Riley have taken full advantage of’s collaborative features as part of their research on the Toomer family. “It began as a search for the pride of this large African American family in a small black enclave of South Jersey,” Jordon said.

Specifically, Jordon and Riley wanted to research James Cecil Toomer, who owned the Tippin Inn (a bar and showroom) in the town of East Berlin, New Jersey. The venue (a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” bars in the 1950s and 1960s where black musicians performed for black audiences) attracted acts like B.B. King, Ike & Tina Turner, and Fats Domino. Their goal was to use newspapers to document family stories of famous entertainers who played at the Tippin Inn. Paid advertisements of upcoming performances were easy to find, Jordon said, and African American newspapers based in Philadelphia provided more texture with articles and photographs. has a long run of the daily newspaper Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) that Jordon and Riley used to their advantage—even though they had to account for racial bias in reporting from that newspaper. “There was a lack of balance beyond sensational news. The only articles written on the Tippin Inn in the local newspaper occurred when it was robbed and burned down,” Jordon said. “Even with this, the Courier-Post is a great source of family information.

“Beyond obituaries, the articles paint a picture of a vibrant community. We learn about social events, achievement in sports and academia.” The Courier-Post also reported on a few fires that family members called “activist” arsons. “As a way to encourage the township to add fire hydrants to the African American section of town, abandoned structures were set ablaze,” Jordon noted. The amount of family information was so enormous that Jordon and Riley were thankful to have the collaborative features of “This subscription website allows us to follow each other. I can see when he clips an article, which avoids duplication. Also, an e-mail digest is sent when he clips.”

The many voices of genealogists in The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide help make the value of newspaper research come through loud and clear!