Newspapers are a genealogy goldmine. Birth, death and marriages announcements provide information on major family events. Graduation announcements list the names of students who graduated from the local schools. Advertisements provide information on businesses or other entrepreneurial activities. I found several advertisements for pool halls that were owned by my 2nd great grand uncle, Charles Cutch, in the 1890’s, as well as, an advertisement for a very interesting “bathing apparatus” he was selling in 1919.
Local news columns and editorials provide information on various activities where an ancestor lived. I found numerous news articles on my grandfather and his activities in various social and community organizations. There were also several poems he had written, as well as, a letter that he had written to the editor.
Sometimes a news article may be written about an ancestor. I learned that in 1894 my great-grandfather, Overton Woodfork, was stabbed and had his throat slashed by a drunken newspaper reporter who lived in the flats where Overton worked as an elevator operator. I also learned that in 1949, my 2nd great grand aunt, Ethel Cutch, was hit by a bus while she was crossing the street and died a few days later of her injuries.
I found several news articles about Charles Cutch that gave insight into his business activities and his run-ins with the law. In 1897, Charles owned a store at 5th and K Street Street NW in Washington, DC. The store was robbed one night when someone smashed the windows and stole some tobacco and four pounds of candy. Two teenagers were later found guilty of housebreaking by a jury in Criminal Court but got off with a stern warning from the judge and a suspended sentence after the jury recommended mercy because of their age.
By 1900 Charles and brother, Joseph, owned a pool hall on the 20th block of K street NW. The pool hall was the scene of several disturbances. One night in 1901 Charles was arrested for discharging his revolver during a disagreement with a patron over payment.
Charles and his brother also owned a pool hall at 11th and U street NW. The pool hall was located just outside a section of the city that was called Striver’s Row. The area was given the name because it was the home of many educated Negro professionals who lived in the city.
The residents soon became weary of the disturbances associated with the pool hall. In 1904, several residents appeared before the District Commissioner to protest the renewal of Charles’ license to operate the pool hall. The proceedings of these hearings are documented in several newspaper articles.
Charles appears in the news again in 1913 when he was arrested for shooting his revolver during a fight with another man. The Legal Record section of the newspaper provides a summary of the court action in the months that followed his arrest. Charles was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and he pleaded not guilty. He was found guilty, committed with a bail of $2000.and few days later a motion for a new trail was filed.
Thanks to these numerous news articles, I now have a better understanding of my ancestors and the communities in which they lived and worked.
There are several methods for accessing online newspaper databases. ProQuest provides online archives to numerous newspapers. These databases can be accessed from most public library websites. Check with your local library for more information. The Chronicling America website provides free access to historic U.S. newspapers from 1836-1922. This website is a great resource because it contains many newspapers that are no longer in print. An internet search for “historical newspapers online” will return many lists of historical newspapers by state.
When researching your family history, it is a good idea to revisit resources and repositories that you have used in the past. New information may have been added since your last visit or you may have gained additional knowledge that will make you see the information in a new light. Such was the case with my paternal great grandfather, Overton Woodfork.
From my research, I knew that Overton’s parents were William and Louisa Woolfolk and his mother’s maiden name was Shakespeare. I also knew from my research with the census (via ancestry.com) and the DC City Directories (using microfilm and the actual directories) that Overton had lived in Caroline County, Virginia during the 1870’s and early 1880’s; Washington DC during the late 1890’s and the 1900’s; and returned to Caroline County, Virginia during the 1930’s where he died in 1933. There were time periods, where he seemed to disappear and I did not know where else to look for him since, to my knowledge, he had only lived in Caroline County, Virginia and Washington, DC.
I had recently learned that one of my Shakespeare ancestors, Martha Shakespeare Lewis, and her husband, Arthur, had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to the Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1890’s where they lived until she died in 1915 and he died in 1935. I also knew that some of my Shakespeare ancestors had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland.
Periodically, I search ancestry.com for my ancestors to see if I can locate any new information. A few months ago, I decided to search for my paternal great grandfather and was surprised to see the search results contained an ‘Overton Woodfork’ in several Cincinnati, Ohio City Directories. Since Overton Woodfork is not a common name, I had a suspicion that it might be my great grandfather. The 1886 entry in the Cincinnati City Directory really caught my eye because in the section for the address it said “bds Arthur Lewis’ Walnut Hills”. Another search result was for an entry in 1887 Cincinnati City Directory contained “rooms 20 Curtis Walnut Hills”. After checking my research notes form Martha Shakespeare Lewis, I confirmed that she and her husband also lived at this address. Therefore, I am almost certain that these entries for ‘Overton Woodfork’ are my great grandfather.
A little while later I searched for Overton Woodfork again on ancestry.com and this time the search results also contained entries from the Baltimore City directory. After making this discovery, I decided to browse each Cincinnati City Directory and Baltimore City Directory manually during the time periods that Overton did not live in Caroline County, Virginia or Washington, DC. I found Overton Woodfork in several of the directories that did not show up in the online search results either because his name had been transcribed incorrectly or some of the names on the page had not been indexed. I also visited the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland to search the microfilm for the Baltimore City directories that were not online.
After completing this research, I now have a more complete timeline for Overton Woodfork. There are still a few years where I don’t know where he was living, so I still have more research to do to fill in the blanks.
In addition to illustrating the importance of revisiting resources and repositories, this experience demonstrates the importance of not solely relying on online search engines to perform research. It is also necessary to browse through the original documents to search for information. You may discover new information that will help you fill in the blanks on your family tree.