Researching newspapers was one of my first genealogy experiences even before I knew just how essential newspapers could be. All I knew at the time was that my grandparent’s obituaries were published in our local newspaper, the Newport Daily Independent. Growing up I remember we got a newspaper everyday both our local newspaper and the state paper. That was back when there were two state-wide newspapers, the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat. I now know that newspapers have a special connection within my family. I have been able to find four generations of my family either utilizing newspapers for employment or using the newspaper as a sounding board when writing letters to the editors. I found the pubic record of my 3X great-grandfather, Robert Hatchett, was freed from slavery by a Union officer during the Civil War in the Arkansas True Democrat from 1862.
I don’t know how old I was when I first saw my Granny’s name, Gladys Denson Mays, in our local newspaper, the Newport Daily Independent. But I do remember reading her column in our local newspaper called So They Tell Me. In this column she talked about what was going on in the Black community of Newport. It wasn’t until I started this genealogy journey that I discovered this column actually started in the 1940s for the Arkansas State Press, a Black newspaper that was dispersed throughout Arkansas and had similar columns from different towns. It was in this newspaper column that my Granny would write about church activities, people visiting from out-of-town, residents traveling out of town, and school activities. The Arkansas State Press made sure you could keep up with Black Arkansans anywhere in the state.
My mother, Patricia Hatchett Mays, worked for our local newspaper as well. She started out as a news reporter/photographer and worked her way to editor. It was during this time that she picked up where my Granny left off and called her column So They Are Still Telling Me, keeping the theme of what’s going on within the Black community in Newport. I worked at the Newport Daily Independent as a proof reader during the summer after my first year of college. I also took photos for the University of Arkansas Newspaper, the Traveler. This was just a part of our lives, it didn’t seem very special to me while I was growing up. But now that I’m researching my family, I find it very interesting what role our local newspaper played in our family. Really, how many people can say that they are the third generation that worked at their local newspaper?
Newspapers are a wonderful resource for genealogy research. There are online archive newspaper subscriptions, such as newspapers.com and genealogybank.com that will allow you to see current and archived newspapers from around the world. I have also requested microfilmed newspapers from libraries to my local library for a small service charge. And the Library of Congress has a huge newspaper collection that can be viewed from their website. I have been able to find many newspaper articles about many of my family members using these types’ research techniques including a letter to the editor that my great-grandfather, Wayman Denson, wrote while living in St. Louis. In this letter to the editor he discusses racism in American and what that feels like to him. I don’t know how he came to write this letter to the editor or why. But reading it gave me a glimpse of his feelings and what he stood for.
In the beginning of this journey I was searching for names and dates. The more relatives I discovered the more I wanted to know about them. I wanted to know about their thoughts, their lives, and their feelings. I’m slowing learning these things and so much more about my family than I ever thought was possible. And this is why my journey continues….