Sunday, October 30, 2011

Family Items in Nearly Old Newspapers

Newspapers have long been known to be a treasure trove of information about family. The use of old newspapers is a common topic at genealogy conferences, is the subject of informative webinars, and is a selling feature of subscription-based genealogy websites.

Typically, when I have used old newspapers to search for items about my family, I have sought out archives of newspapers published in the vicinity of my ancestor's home, hoping to find an announcement about a wedding or perhaps an obituary. I have had modest success locating small newspaper articles and sometimes, I have been lucky enough to find newsworthy items about their social life, their political views or events in their community in which they may have been involved.

I recently re-discovered Our Ontario, described as a digital portal, part of Knowledge Ontario, a not-for-profit 'collaborative' of library, cultural, heritage and community organizations. Our Ontario provides hosting and user interface tools for these organization's digital collections. Using just my surname as the search term, Our Ontario returned 634 matching items. When I found that one of the items on the first page of search results was a reference to the obituary for my granduncle Alexander Gaull Hadden from 1997, even though the newspaper image wasn't available, I knew there was cause to keeping looking.

Among the digital newspaper images that I subsequently found were multiple news stories about the sons of Alexander (Uncle Alec to me) and his wife Hilda, Robert (Bob) and David. Almost all of these newspaper articles appeared in the Stouffville Tribune (now the Stouffville Sun-Tribune). Stouffville is a small town to the north-east of Toronto, small enough that the hiring of David (my first cousin, once removed) as a town police officer (pictured right from a 1967 article) in September 1963 was front page news. Stories of David's crime fighting and that of older brother Bob, also a police officer at the time but in neighbouring towns, often found there way into newspaper.

My favourite story being about a 23 year-old man who David pulled over for a routine traffic stop. When David recognized the man from a wanted poster, the culprit took off with David "in hot pursuit." A short time later, when the suspect's vehicle blew a rear tire, the 'fugitive' "jumped from the car, pulling the [steering] wheel sharply to the left. He fell and the auto ran over his legs and hit a hydro pole. The suspect was arrested at the rear of a nearby house."

Fortunately, more than the real crime dramas of Stouffville were included in the local newspaper. Through the social column, "Stouffville Scene, What's going on," I learned that my Uncle Alec and Aunt Hilda spent a week visiting David, his wife Joan, and their children Penny and Gordon in December 1973, including having Christmas dinner together with members of Joan's family.

Of course, there are the more traditional sources of genealogy information from newspapers also available. I found the wedding announcement for my cousin Bob Hadden and his wife Marilyn from May 1958, complete with descriptions of the bride's dress and corsage as well as the maid of honour's dress. Somehow, my invitation to the wedding (as I'm certain Bob would not have forgotten his then 3 year-old cousin) must have been lost in the mail so these descriptions are all the more valuable to me now!

If you have some Ontario, Canada roots, perhaps Our Ontario may prove to be a goldmine for you as well!


  1. Our free Australian online newspaper collection, Trove, is a favourite downunder for tresure such as you have described.

  2. I've got to second Jill. TROVE is marvellous!

  3. Glad you've found the Stouffville Tribune archives on OurOntario, which as you see is a joint effort with the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library. Since you're close-by, feel free to come in some time and see what else might be helpful in our local history room!