Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Story From The Small Town Papers

One of the families I have been working on has deep roots in Kentucky, a place that takes its history seriously.  There is a fantastic resource, Kentuckiana, which includes archives of small town newspapers.  In the 1880s-1920s, these newspapers were much more intimate than the newspapers of today.  They were, in many ways, the first social media.  In them, people recorded travels, illnesses, family events, business announcements - everything that we see on Facebook or Twitter today.

They are challenging to research - the indexes aren't always accurate, the scans can be hard to read, and finding a continuous thread is almost impossible.  But the stories make it all worthwhile.  From the vocabulary to the insights of the newspaper editors, you can get a warm and vibrant picture of the people in these towns. Here is an example:

This is a 3 article story:

July 7, 1907: Mary Carter held a "Chin Music Party" or "Talking Bee" at her home in Carter's Landing.  Alfred Miller and his brother Everett attended.  "Chin Music" is a slang term for idle talk, used by Stephen Crane in the Red Badge of Courage.

August 28, 1908: P.B. Greenwood (one of Mary's relatives) held a "rag" with dozens of young people attending - including Mary and Alfred.  The Notes from the editor on the party said this:
Alfred and Ed. Miller, Stoy Hawkins and Richard Carter, all young swells of this place, are trying to sprout a mustache.  Now wouldn't that tickle you?  Will the young ladies please sit up and take notice.
At the time Alfred was 21 and Mary was 26.  Apparently the mustache was a hit . . .

January 14, 1909: Alfred and Mary's engagement is announced.

January 19, 1910: And a year later, the editor (known as 'old mule' in his column), meets the baby . . .
The marriage and birth dates could have been gotten elsewhere, but the stories in the paper add such humanity and humor to their identities.  It took hours to piece these fragments together, but I love the story that results.

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