In researching local history and genealogy, many spend time pouring over marriage licenses, death certificates, property deeds or maps. Historical newspapers and periodicals are additional resources that are often overlooked. These give detailed accounts of how people lived, worked and socialized. Beyond reporting national and world news, local historic newspapers show how the community ran. From social engagements to legal interactions to real estate transactions, historic newspapers provide a wealth of information.
Newspapers give a glimpse into the social scene of the time, reporting visits between local residents, travelers to the area, church assemblies and families moving seasonally between city and country homes. Newspaper articles showed business partnerships, friendships and even hints at romances (often later confirmed with engagement or marriage announcements in those same papers). One 1911 Sylvan Valley News article entitled “Romance in the Print Shop” reported on a wedding that took place at the newspaper’s print shop. “At 10:30 by the big round clock, Logan Ball, of Marshall, and Miss Olivia Allison, of Davidson River, took their stand before the ‘composing’ table and entered into a ‘composition’ of matrimony, performed by Magistrate E. T. Henning.” The article went on to discuss the couple and where they would make their home (in Marshall), then ended with well wishes for the newly married couple.
Companies like Ecusta Paper also released their own publications reporting information about individual employees, workplace safety, company events and sports teams. The Echo began in 1940 and asked employees to contribute. By the March 1940 edition they noted the wonderful response they received and that there were more than 250 suggestions submitted to name the publication. “[…] Echo was probably submitted more times than any other one. Eco, Ecco and Ecusta Echo. The judges preferred the correct spelling of the word, and thought it would be better to omit the word Ecusta, due to the fact that Champagne Paper Corporation and Endless Belt Company might want to Echo too.” Later, the change in ownership meant the publication was replaced with what would end as Olin News. It still reported on the many goings-on at the company, though its focus shifted slightly away from local contributions.
Additionally, newspapers are often essential in tracking the opening of businesses, house histories through real estate transactions and court cases. When original documentation cannot be accessed, newspapers can fill in this missing information. As road names, buildings and city landscape changes, newspapers can help verify locations and their relation to historic places and modern constructions. Advertisements in each paper show prominent local businesses, the goods and services that were in demand and even common vernacular. Many advertisements used jargon of the time, such as in an 1896 Carmichael & Shipman ad in The Brevard Hustler. “We are in the swim now with hardware, delftware, tinware, cutelry, notions, stationary, jewelry, confectionary. Staple and fancy groceries.” Indeed, newspapers and periodicals can help with completing mysteries about home history, family genealogy, business records, legal proceedings, and so much more.
For more information about using historic newspapers to research local history and genealogy, visit Transylvania County Library’s Family History Third Thursdays, a monthly mini-workshop and social hour. Meet up with other genealogy enthusiasts every third Thursday in the North Carolina Room for a 15 minute workshop highlighting a family history research resource, followed by time to share your finds, frustrations, and family history journey of discovery. September 21 at 1pm will explore historic newspapers.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Sources are available upon request. This article was written by Local History Associate Erin Weber Boss. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.