November 6th, 2013

Use Ethnic and Foreign Language Newspapers to Uncover Ancestors

Newspapers are a source of pride and a means of bonding for every community. This is especially true for ethnic communities who may be feeling a little alienated form their homeland. A newspaper written in their own language and relaying news from their native land can help them to stay in touch with their former community, and connect them with others of their culture in their current one. Until the advent of the internet it was almost impossible to access these valuable resources, but that is changing, and ethnic newspapers can now much more easily be a part of any genealogist’s tool kit.

Thanks again to many volunteers, ethnic newspaper collections are being made easily accessible to researchers. One such collection is the African American Newspapers and Periodicals Bibliography initiated by James Danky, long time newspaper and periodical librarian at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The publication features a listing of over 6,500 publications and where you can find them. Many of the items in African-American Newspapers & Periodicals : A Bibliography have been placed on microfilm and can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library. The full publication can be purchased form for $174.80, or you can order it at your local bookstore. Links to many of the publications in the listing can be found at the History of African-American Newspapers website.

The particular value of ethnic newspapers is their capacity to deliver detailed information on members of their community. While a local newspaper may just mention someone by name in a death notice, the ethnic paper would have a detailed obituary. Of course there is the problem of a language barrier, but software like Google Translate, though it shouldn’t be relied on for grammatical accuracy, can give you a general idea of what was said. You will be able to recognize names of individuals and locations and dates however, and that is the information that is important to you as a genealogist.

You can still find many ethnic organizations throughout the United States today, and many publish their own newspapers. The Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota has a huge collection, while others can be found on a local level at libraries, state archives, and at genealogical and historical societies. There are also very specialized collections available to researchers held by organizations such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America, the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Illinois, and the Czech and Slovak American Genealogical Society of Illinois.

If you are researching an ancestor who immigrated, an ethnic newspaper could be an excellent source of information on them. Even if you don’t find your ancestor, you will still get an excellent idea of their culture, and how they might have lived. That is really what genealogy is all about; painting our family portrait. Always remember, it’s not just about facts and figures, but real people and how they lived.