Newspaper Neighborhood Columns are Gold Mines

Newspapers chronicled the lives of our ancestors. They reported on the daily events and happenings in our ancestors’ communities.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, neighborhood columns appeared in newspapers with information most often submitted by a member of the neighborhood or community. These neighborhood columns presented news about the residents of rural communities and crossroads developments that dotted the rural landscape of America. Visits between friends and family and migration of the residents in and out of the area were fodder for the columns that were rich with all kinds of personal news. Although these columns are often referred to as “gossip columns,” I prefer not to use that term. I call them nuggets of genealogy gold.

Neighborhood columns can put your ancestors in a certain place at a particular time. Visitors usually warranted a mention, particularly if they were past residents of the community or relatives of current residents. Pay attention to out-of-town visitors as they might well be relatives of your ancestor. If your ancestor moved from an area, this might be mentioned along with a date of migration as well as a destination. Birthday and anniversary celebrations, family reunions, and who dined with whom can all be found in neighborhood columns.

Take the time to find the newspaper that covered the news in your ancestor’s town. (You may want to read the Newspapers GenGuide for tips on locating and accessing historic newspapers.) Then browse the newspaper looking for the various neighborhood columns. Some of these columns appeared on the front page of the newspaper as their presence stimulated sales and interest for subscribers, while others were scattered throughout. Some newspapers have separate neighborhood columns for each community within the newspaper’s coverage area while others may have just one column covering all nearby communities. The format varies widely between and within newspapers.

As you familiarize yourself with the layout and organization of a particular newspaper, your eye will be drawn to these neighborhood columns. Take time to read or scan them for familiar names and places. You might be surprised at the unique information you will find.


Case Study

The reports of visitors and travelers in neighborhood columns can help to track the migration of family members. The following 1933 wedding announcement in the Hopewell Herald (New Jersey) provided the first clue that Charles Sked had left the family’s hometown in New Jersey:

Miss Jayne Garrett, daughter of George W. Garrett, of Council, Idaho, and Charles W. Sked, son of Mr. and Mrs. William P. Sked, of Pennington, were married recently. Mr. Sked left Pennington for the West about five years ago after graduating from Hopewell High School, and has been in business in that section of the country ever since. The newly married couple are expected to arrive at the home of the bridegroom’s parents after Christmas for a vacation. [20 December 1933]

This announcement helped to explain why Charles Sked was not found in New Jersey in the 1930 census. He had gone west about 1928. An entry in the neighborhood column of the 25 July 1934 issue of the Hopewell Herald finds Charles’ parents traveling west for a visit.

Mr. and Mrs. Will Sked and family of South Main Street are enjoying a motor trip through the western states. They will visit their son, Charles Sked, of Oregon.

We now know that some time after his marriage, Charles and his wife moved further west into Oregon.

Four months later, an entry in the 21 November 1934 finds that the couple moved back east.

Mr. and Mrs. William Sked, and Mrs. and Mrs. Charles Sked, of Pennington, were Sunday visitors at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Blackwell, on Center Street.

This simple statement about a gathering of three couples could easily be dismissed. The key phrase, “of Pennington,” indicates that Charles Sked moved his family back east and took up residence in the town where he grew up. William Sked was his father, and Wilson Blackwell was his uncle. Newspaper research clearly helped to identify the migration path of Charles Sked from New Jersey to the west and back again.


Copyright 2017, Phyllis Matthews Ziller, All Rights Reserved.