article is never going to get written. I am finding it too easy to
become distracted. My grandmother gave me three boxes of photos,
clippings, and family genealogies. Between things I never knew,
pictures I had never seen, and things I had long since forgotten, I am
week’s column, let’s take a look at a few of the newspaper clippings
and discuss some lessons learned and ideas for follow-up.
A Suicide or a Murder?
The headline "Murder Plot Victim" was intended to grab attention. It
certainly got mine. A photocopy of apparently two newspaper clippings
details an uncle’s 1921 death in Kansas City. Local officials ruled the
death a suicide by gunshot and the body was returned to Illinois for
burial. An autopsy later conducted at the family's request found no
bullet wound and determined the death was caused by blunt force trauma
to the back of the head. No other clippings mention this death. I am
hoping to locate additional information on this death, and I have a
To begin with, I will start by reviewing Kansas City, Missouri,
newspapers in July 1921 for any mention of the death or an
investigation into his death. I will also obtain a copy of the 10 July
1921, Quincy, Illinois, Whig-Journal, which apparently mentions
the death. Based upon the clippings, I will have to search this paper
for at least a month or so to locate follow up articles on the
investigation. While not mentioned in the clipping, the local weekly
paper in the town where the uncle was from (and where his mother still
lived at the time of his death) should also be referenced. A small town
paper may provide a slightly different perspective.
newspaper records can likely be obtained on microfilm by my local
library. I probably will have to do the actual searches myself,
particularly when I do not have a specific date or a span of several
weeks or months must be searched.
making an interlibrary loan request of my librarian, I should do some
groundwork. I searched Google in
an attempt to locate more general information on the newspapers or
names of libraries that will interlibrary loan materials from the
desired area. A search for "Missouri newspapers microfilm" resulted in
several relevant hits, including one for the newspaper library at the
State Historical Society of Missouri. Additional Google searches could
be conducted by replacing the name of the state with the specific town.
Since the two towns mentioned are fairly large, their own libraries may
have the newspapers on microfilm.
Internet searches are not successful, another resource I can check is
the appropriate USGenWeb site
for that county. Pages for libraries in the areas where the newspapers
were printed may also provide information on newspapers available on
microfilm. If those attempts fail, I can post queries regarding the
newspapers to the appropriate message boards at Ancestry.
Coroner records in Kansas City, Missouri, where the death took place
should be referenced. The newspaper clippings mention a post-mortem
analysis performed by the Kansas City Deputy Coroner. I should also
search coroner records in Adams County, Illinois, where the later
autopsy took place. That coroner is also mentioned in the clippings.
Both of these records should be at the county level.
I will also
double-check my files and determine if I have located him in the 1920
census. If not, I will search for him in Ancestry’s recently released
every-name index to the 1920
U.S. Federal Census. While the census will not provide information
on his death, it still should be searched for other clues.
everything in Grandma’s boxes was as exciting as the 1921 death of my
uncle, but as I scanned the items I was reminded of a few tips that are
worth mentioning here:
the Time. When I read through one of my parents’ wedding
announcements, there was only name I did not recognize: that of the
coffee pourer. Every other person involved in the wedding was a name I
knew and instantly recognized. I immediately shot off an email to my
mother requesting information on the coffee pourer. As fate would have
it, my mother’s response was not immediate, and I began thinking more
about the name of the coffee pourer. I then looked again at the names
of the other married women involved in the wedding and the reception.
There were six of them and they were all listed as “Mrs. John Smith.” I
realized the problem. I most likely knew who the coffee pourer was, but
I just did not know the name of her husband in 1967. In many records,
women are hidden under the name of their husband.
for Multiple Clippings or Newspaper Write-ups. There are three
separate newspaper write-ups of my parents’ marriage from three
different papers. One is significantly shorter than the other two. If
there are multiple newspapers that might have written up an event,
consider searching all those newspapers. One write-up may contain
significant details not mentioned elsewhere. The coffee pourer is
mentioned in two out of the three clippings. Unfortunately her first
name is not mentioned in either write-up.
the Source. Unfortunately many of the clippings are undated and
without sources. This is fairly typical. I can identify several from
the type of print and format of the obituary. Always turn over any
clipping for potential clues on the reverse. I was one of "three
baptisms this Sunday" in the church bulletin. Which “Sunday” was the
problem. Luckily the announcement was placed in just the right
location. On the back was the date: "July 28, 1968: The Seventh Sunday
after Trinity." One is not always so fortunate.
Share, Share. Do not be the only one holding family pictures of
clippings and pictures. Share them. Some of grandma’s pictures were
likely obtained from relatives after her in-law’s home burned to the
ground in 1924. A relative who gave Grandma a photocopy of a 1910
postcard indicated to me that the original has been lost, but at least
several of us have color photocopies of document. You never know when
sharing will help you--in addition to helping someone else.
Indentify, Identify. Lastly, but most importantly, identify who the
people are in your old pictures. Many of Grandma’s pictures have names
written on the back, but a few do not. The importance of this cannot be
overstated. I will probably never know the identities of the couple and
children who are pictured with my great-grandmother in a circa 1910
photograph. She is the only one identified in the picture.
What to Do with Them?
In future columns, we will discuss my attempts to organize and preserve
the clippings and other materials. After all, I can’t just let them sit
in cardboard boxes forever.
John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of
Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also
on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael
is currently a member of the board of the Federation
of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures
nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and
contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry
Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit
his website, but he regrets that
he is unable to assist with personal research.