Adding “Color” to Your Reports – More on Old Newspaper Articles

As I’ve mentioned before, I love browsing through old newspaper clippings to both get hidden genealogical information as well as to add some “color” to my research reports. We all know that genealogical research can be pretty dry and boring to read. I try to add anecdotal information about the people and places that they lived in to give some life to my reports.

There are a couple of places that I use often for newspaper research. For old articles in the US I use They have some reasonable annual memberships that have proven to be worthwhile to my reasearch. For old newspapers in the UK, I’ve been using the new database at On I don’t have a subscription. Instead I purchase “Pay as You Go” credits. It is 5 credits each to view an article.

Both of these sites are limited as to the locations and time periods covered, but so far I have managed to find a wealth of information. On both sites there is family information such marriages, births and deaths. There is also valuable address information in some notices. Then there is the minutiae that was written about in the old newspapers, such as the time my Great Great Grandfather returned to work after having been injured in a fall. Some of the small items and descriptions included in stories is amazing to read today. The really interesting information comes from stories involving brushes with the law. My Irish family in New Haven, CT seems to have not understood the law about not serving liquor on Sundays. If a relative owned a pub, and many of them did, then you can be sure they were arrested for serving on Sundays. I also have the assorted drunks in the family. One of my Great Great Great Grandfathers was charged with hitting his wife after she refused to give him money to go to the bar.

This week I was working on some of my British lines and came across just as many law breakers on that side of the Atlantic! The first one involved a Joseph Pilling who in 1865 in Cheshire, England, was charged with attempting to kill his wife. The account of the trial makes it clear that the wife, Elizabeth, was a bit of a drunk herself. It seems she would take off to parts unknown, get drunk, pass out and end up in jail. After one such trip she was confronted by her husband who chased her to a neighbor’s house and hit her with a poker. The husband was sentenced to 9 months of hard labor. I guess while the couple split up, they failed to make it official, because later news reports that Joseph was charged with bigamy. Hopefully his second and third marriages worked out better than the first!

The second unruly relative that I discovered was a Grace Hancock Kieft who in 1879 in Braunton, Devon, was involved in fight with a neighbor that caused quite a scene in the middle of the main road in town. Grace was involved in an altercation with a Mrs. Anne Dendle of Knowle. Mrs. Dendle and her husband had been walking in town and when they passed Grace visiting at the home of Mrs. Harris, the Dendles yelled deragatory things at Grace. Grace ran out the back of the Harris’ house, but ended up going back to front and confronting the couple. A physical fight erupted between Grace and Anne Dendle. During the trial it came out that Grace had “for a long time” suspected that Mrs. Dendle had an “improper relation” with Grace’s husband, Richard Kieft. Grace had taken to harassing Mrs. Dendle. The judge determined that the fight was Grace Kieft’s fault. She was fined and told to “keep the peace” for 3 months.

No one stopped the fight

The amusing part of this story involved the fact that the fight went on for an HOUR and none of the people standing around watching tried to break the fight up. They admitted as much to the judge. After hearing this, the judge felt the need to lecture the other witnesses for not doing anything to stop the fight.

So, while there may not have been a lot of genealogical information in these two stories, I think we can agree that we definitely have a better idea of what life was like for the individuals involved. And if nothing else, it makes a research report much more interesting to read.

Here are the two news stories: