The Context of Their Lives…Part 2

Historical and social context help complete the picture of the stories and events during the lives of our ancestors. In the first part of this post, current events, religion, education, migration, and property examples were provided as a springboard for searching newspaper articles. 

In this installment, even more topics will be explored with examples to aid in the discovery of what life was like for our ancestors.


Newspapers certainly carry headlines and articles about conflicts and wars, but many publications also include information about local folks in the military. These “records” can be very simple in nature or quite detailed. 

Army record


Major weather events help give context to a time period. Even daily weather reports can help set the stage for an important event in your family history. 

Local Weather



In the past and even present day, organizations and clubs publish their activities and members in the newspaper. While your ancestor may not be named directly, reading about an organization they were part of might help you better understand who they were in their community.



Politics is a widely publicized topic in newspapers. Scoping out articles from the national level all the way down to a small town can provide a wealth of information. See how the electoral college has changed over time and candidates running for offices of all kinds.


Electoral College


Advertisements give us an idea of the cost of living during our ancestors’ lives. It also provides great insight into the things they bought. Along the same lines, classifieds have many different listings such as wanted, lost, for sale, and for rent. 




Vital Records

If you have not used newspapers as a source for vital information like births, marriages, and deaths, you are missing out. You might find announcements of such events, but don’t forget to think outside the box. Use different words for these key sources of information and events related to them, such as bridal showers and wills.



Neighboring Communities

Many smaller newspapers had sections dedicated to smaller, neighboring communities. These community sections listed all sorts of interesting information about the people and what they were doing. Some of the juicier tidbits might even be called gossip!

St. Paul

Rush County


What did our ancestors do for fun? The newspaper was a terrific source for events in the area like a play or parties. A reader might also find entertainment in the newspaper with things like crosswords and serial stories. 


Serial Stories

Way of Life

Ideas and tips for running a household were commonly found in newspapers. Many of the articles applied to people living in town and farmers. It was a way to keep up with current trends of day-to-day life.

Home, Farm, and Garden

Market Reports


A census record might include the job and income of an ancestor. The newspaper is another source to help complete the picture. Types of jobs, their salaries or wages, and the names of people in the jobs might be listed in the newspaper.

Jobs & Salaries


Use historical and social context from newspaper content to build the stories of your ancestors. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt through history to learn about their lives and the time period.

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