One of the great joys in genealogical research is newspaper work. Finding obituaries, wedding mentions, and other social tidbits of an ancestor’s life can lead to so much more; and give you a unique perspective on their daily lives. Scanning the headlines, short articles, quick notices; all of that can come together to create an astonishing experience; truly placing yourself in that moment in time.
Something you need to be sure to look for in newspapers is the advertisements. This abundant resource is commonly skipped by researchers, but it can lead to truly valuable information that you may not find anywhere else. From one ad you can ascertain what the company was, who ran it, the different facets of their business, and in many cases, when the business began, giving you a good timeline in comparison to the community the business is in. For example, if you know that the Town of Breckenridge was founded in 1859, but an advertisement lists an 1855 incorporated date, does that mean that the business was moved to the new town, but started elsewhere? Was it a simple human error? Was it a printing problem? Or, did they just fib about it?
Was the business managed by a woman? If so, did that mean that she inherited it from a husband or other male relative, or was it all her’s? Or, was her name listed because a “feminine touch” was a good marketing tool for the business itself? This can certainly lead to an interesting investigation into female business records.
Consider where in the newspaper you find the advertisement. Page one or page seven? The difference can tell you a little something about how successful – or not – the business was, and how much the owner’s felt the need to commit to marketing tools. The same can be said for the size of the advertisement. Just as in today’s world, the bigger the ad, the bigger the bill.
Can you build a timeline from advertisements? If one person, or family, had a business for a series of years in the same general area, or several business, the ad’s can certainly assist you in developing a general framework of their lives. Did they move around small town’s in the same county? Did they have the same business for over a decade? Did they have the same type of business, but with differing results? All of these questions should be considered, and applied to the research process. Compare all of these elements to census records, birth, marriage and death records; and soon you have compiled a fairly detailed individual or family timeline.
So, have you checked the ad’s? In a society today that is overrun with “Black Friday” commercials, you are hereby challenged to go back in time to see what was being advertised, and by whom.