How else would I know that my 4th great grandfather died at at 90 with all his teeth?
The Library of Congress Chronicling America is a great starting point for old newspapers. Not all newspapers are digitized, but keep checking as more are added everyday. You can search for an ancestor’s name or event; I got lucky a couple times with digitized copies of the Pittsburgh Dispatch.
If you are interested in a newspaper that has not been digitized, the database gives a list of possible locations to search in person. Click on the link for US Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present and make your selections based on city, county, state and you will get a list of all the newspapers from that location. Click on any of them for more information and then at the bottom of the page click on “view complete holdings information.” You may find the newspaper in a more convenient location if you’re unable to make a long-distance research trip. For example, I’m interested in looking through the Advance Argus of Greenville, PA 1887-1917 which happens to also be located in Harrisburg, PA (for me, four hours less of a drive).
Always check with the local library directly to see if they have indexed any local papers. One of my favorite resources for old news articles and obituaries is the Butler County (PA) Public Library. They have an excellent online index and the staff responds pretty quickly to paper copy requests. Other great indexes I often use are the New Castle Public Library’s Marriage/Obituary Database and the Rutherford B Hayes Library Obituary Index. If the local library does not have an index (most do not) you may try to find a librarian or local genealogist that doesn’t mind looking up a specific date for you.
I also use newspaperarchive.com, which is a paid service for access to an unbelievable amount of digitized newspapers. When I first started using it, it was pretty costly, but since then the price has gone down. It has definitely paid for itself many times over in saving me request/research fees and travel costs.
You don’t get any vital details out of an old photo, but they certainly provide some great context to your relatives and the time period. This photo is of my grandfather in the late 1930’s. I can make certain assumptions (and generate more questions) based on the instruments, clothing, and facial expressions.
I’ve created family photo albums on flickr so that everyone can view and comment. Old family photos are great conversation starters, especially to those relatives that “aren’t into genealogy.”
“Just like watching the detectives…” If you haven’t seen the show History Detectives on PBS, you are really missing out. Each episode starts off with an artifact, story, or photo that very little is known about. The History Detectives then investigate to find the real story behind the object. Oftentimes, they will incorporate genealogy in their investigation. From their website “History Detectives is devoted to exploring the complexities of historical mysteries, searching out the facts, myths and conundrums that connect local folklore, family legends and interesting objects.” Every episode is fascinating and I always think “wow, I wish I had learned this in history class.”
Family History Books & Google Books
This is my favorite thing to just mess around with. Just go to Google Books and type in a name or event you’re researching. I’m currently doing research on my Updegraff lineage and by typing in Updegraff (or Op den Graeff) and then filtering for the 19th century, I get a list of interesting books that range from religion to historical accounts and biographies. What is great, is that most of these books have been out of print for decades and the information and context you get is pretty unique.
Many Universities also contain old digitized books and lineages, including The University of Michigan Making of America Digital Library. Each archive contains different books, so you should browse through various search engines. FamilySearch.org has made it easy to sort through some of the collections here, which includes databases from Brigham Young University and the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research. The lineage books contain lots of great clues and while it’s not recommended to copy other people’s trees, they may direct you to to the actual source.