How I Did It: Used Newspapers to Build the Story of my Ancestor’s Life

By Kenyatta D. Berry Premium

I have been doing genealogy for over 20 years and early in my professional genealogy career, I chose to focus on enslaved genealogy. This is one of the most challenging areas of genealogy. I felt that my background in law would be beneficial in helping people find their enslaved ancestors.

Records were generated in the names of the enslavers and sometimes with minimal information about the enslaved. Typically, the enslaved did not know their exact birthdate or age. For about fifteen years, I had been looking for the death date of my enslaved 4th great grandmother, Martha Payne Carter. She was born about 1820 in Virginia and began a relationship with Lewis Carter about 1848/49. Their first child, Emily Ann Carter was born August 29, 1849 in Madison County. I knew that Martha Carter was living with her daughter, Emily and son-in-law James Philip Sellers in LeRoy, New York in 1920. I have not been able to find a death record for Martha Carter in Virginia and New York.

newspapers ancestors

Key findings in The New York Age

A few years ago, I started researching newspapers to learn more about my family in upstate New York. I found information on Martha’s arrival in LeRoy, New York in 1917 in The New York Age. An African American newspaper that published information on African Americans in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and around the country.

newspapers ancestors

Following the paper trail

I knew from a 1920 Census records that she was living with her daughter Emily C. Sellers and her son-in-law James P. Sellers in LeRoy in 1920. I expanded my search to include articles about her daughters, Emily C. Sellers and Mrs. A. L. Price living in LeRoy and the surrounding area. This lead me to an article describing Martha’s death in 1922.

newspapers ancestors

She had gone back to Virginia a few weeks prior and died on October 25th. Martha was more than a 100 years old and it identifies her three daughters left to mourn her. Her granddaughter, Delilah Sellers Bundy would die at 102 years old. The lesson learned, you never know where you are going to find information about an ancestor. I have found death dates in deeds. It pays to look at ethnic newspapers and newspapers in cities where children of your ancestors might have migrated. Newspapers can be a great source to help fill in the gaps during census years, provide social history and vital record information when the record isn’t available.

Kenyatta D. Berry, author The Family Tree Toolkit

The Family Tree Toolkit

The Family Tree Toolkit is designed to help you navigate the sometimes overwhelming, sometimes treacherous, sometimes exhilarating waters of finding your ancestors. From how and where to begin, to what records are available online and in repositories. From what to do once you find the information, to how to share your story and of course DNA discoveries.

The Family Tree Toolkit is the perfect guide for a methodical yet personal inquiry into your unique history.