Find House History In Old Newspapers

Historical newspaper archives are great places to discover new ancestors or learn more about those we already know.  Big companies such as GenealogyBank and offer members a thorough search of thousands of old newspapers. Many public libraries also provide direct online access to local newspaper archives. Another great research tool is Free Newspaper Archives with its links to hundreds of national, regional and local newspapers.  By simply searching for ancestors by name in a local newspaper, I uncovered a treasure trove of obituaries, weddings, school awards, business news and other articles that are now part of my family’s history.  But there is an another newspaper search you can do that may produce unexpected results.

The focus of is on the places we and our ancestors have called home over the years.  It’s as much about the houses and apartments as it is the people who once lived inside them. That’s why whenever I do a search of someone’s name I also make it a habit to search their street address. For example, the HomePage for 259 Second Street, South Amboy, NJ, covers the years 1933-1978 when my father’s family lived at the address.  By doing a separate search of the address in the local newspaper, I discovered a story about the house on Second Street that my father likely wasn’t aware of in all the time he lived there.

The front page story in the October 21, 1911 edition of The South Amboy Citizen was about a house fire on Second Street. William Wycoff lived at 259 Second Street at the time, twenty-two years before my father and his family moved in. It was interesting to learn about a previous resident and to realize that the house I grew to know and associate with my family nearly burned down years before any of them set foot inside it.

Fortunately, I knew the address of my father’s old home and my search was quick and easy. But what if you have an ancestor’s name, but not their street address? A good place to start looking is the U.S. Census, which began listing street addresses in 1880. Old city directories and phone books are another source of valuable information in matching names with addresses.

Aside from adding to the history of the house on Second Street, reading that 1911 newspaper clipping also shows how men and women were treated differently in the press a hundred years ago.  The name of the owner of the house, William G. Wyckoff, is spelled out in all its formal glory, while his wife, the person who escapes the “roaring furnace,” is simply identified as “Mrs. Wyckoff,” no first name given or required.  And then there’s the condescending closing line.

“The alarm brought out a large number of people, among them many women who forgot their household duties in the excitement.”

It definitely was a different time.


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