Monday, September 29, 2008

Newspapers Can Be a Treasure Trove of Information

Several years ago I was thumbing through a bound volume of newspapers in the county courthouse, and on the front page of the March 20, 1913 edition of the Itawamba County News, the following paragraph in the society section caught my attention:

“Uncle William Sheffield was here this week visiting relatives and told about seeing seven men shot on their coffins for deserting. Also, his knowledge and skill as a blacksmith, enabled him to release 14 soldiers one night who were condemned to die next morning for having deserted the army. This occurred in Atlanta, Georgia."

William Sheffield was my great grandfather. I had known he had training as a blacksmith from looking at early census records. I also knew he had served in the Confederate army during the Civil War with Company B of the 38th Alabama Infantry. Having his service records and pension records I had learned quite a bit about his service in the war, but coming across the information found in the old newspaper was simply something that more than likely would not be found in official records - and it was a piece of information that came straight from the mouth of my great grandfather.

While looking through old newspapers from 1889, the November 7, 1889 edition of the Fulton Reporter here in Mississippi had a notice that read “Mr. E. Cockrell died at his home, a few miles east of Fulton last Monday night. He was one of Itawamba's oldest and best citizens, and his death is quite a shock to his many friends and relatives -- more on account of it being so sudden and unexpected. A good man has gone to rest.” And in the same issue in the Bowen News section, a notice read “We attended the funeral of old Brother Cockrell last Sunday at New Home Church. Rev. McDougal preached.”

These two notices documented the sudden death of my great great grandfather, Elum Cockrell in 1889. I already had his death date from visiting his monument in the old secluded Moore Cemetery east of Fulton, but from these two notices I learned that his memorial services were held at New Home Church and that the Rev. McDougal preached the sermon.

Little tidbits of information such as the ones illustrated above, add so much to the barebones information of dates and names in our family histories. Old newspapers are a valuable resource for family history research. They not only supply a good general history of the area we are researching, but also give us bits of information about our families that normally we would not have. And such information is usually contemporary to the times being researched and usually comes from firsthand knowledge.

It is so important to never forget the importance of newspapers in our family history research. Old newspapers are simply a looking glass into the lives and times of our ancestors, and the places they lived. A newspaper is in essence, a genuine snapshot of any given place at any given time.

The above post was written for the 57th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

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