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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill  10/5/2005

Grandma's Clippings

This 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 nearly overwhelmed.

In this 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 plan.

First Steps
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.

These 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.

Before 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.

If my 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
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.

Not 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:

  • Remember 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.
  • Search 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.
  • Keep 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, 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.
  • Identify, 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.

Michael 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 or visit his website, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2005,

Used by the author on his website with permission
Other Genealogy articles by Michael John Neill.