Tips & Tricks

Context Over Clippings

By Katie Derby

As you thumb through old family documents or scrapbooks you may come across a newspaper clipping. Marriage and birth announcements, achievements in school or sports, and articles about anniversary celebrations were often carefully clipped out and saved. These are treasures, but clipping things out of the full newspaper means that some important context is lost.

Often clippings contain vague dates, like “… passed away last Tuesday,” “burial in Greenwood Cemetery on Saturday,” “united in marriage at St. Luke’s Church.” Without the masthead at the top of the full newspaper page, the publication date and location of the newspaper is unknown, and these cryptic dates and places are that much harder to pin down.

Clippings can also be removed from other important context. What if your ancestor’s brief obituary is printed in the same paper with a full article describing the accident that led to their death? What does it tell you if your ancestor is one of several local death announcements for people all succumbing to the same communicable disease? What if the clipping is cut short, but the original article continued on the next column or another page?

Many news stories are not just written about once in the paper. Accidents and crimes are investigated. Deaths are often followed by tributes submitted by employers and community groups, estate settlement announcements, and thank you notes submitted by the family of the deceased. Obituaries may be followed by funeral notices that may list names of those who attended the service. If you have a single clipping, it may be one of many that were actually printed.

A solution to these issues is to find the original historic newspaper, save the entire page the clipping is found on, and search in additional issues for more information. Several online databases specialize in historic newspapers.

Local libraries and archives often have original community newspapers in their collections. To find these newspapers, search or the Library of Congress’s U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present for holdings locations. Once you find a listing for a newspaper printed in the right time and place, contact the local libraries or archive and ask for a record look-up from the staff. This works best when you know a specific person or topic and a narrow date range. If you are interested in a more general search across a large time period, you should plan a trip to visit the local library yourself, or consider hiring a professional researcher.

At FOREVER Family Research, we have access to many subscription databases and can work with local researchers to find your family stories in newspapers and many other types of historical records, should you need help.

Once you find newspaper articles, save the entire page in addition to any specific clippings. Include the publication information for the newspaper (title, location, date, page number), as well as where you found it (website, database, library collection, etc.) in the metadata for any digital files. If the metadata is lost, you still have the full-page image of the newspaper to refer to, and if the full-page image is lost, you will still have the vital information in the metadata of any clippings you made.

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