Solving the Mystery Ancestor Questions Through

Posted by on

By Sherry Lindsay,

Newspapers as a genealogical source most often come to mind when thinking about birth and marriage announcements and obituaries. But newspapers can have a great deal of lifestyle information as well. This is particularly true for small-town newspapers which feature anecdotal stories about birthday parties, family vacations and other such simple events. It is these sorts of stories that really bring life to ancestors. While it is great to have the vital dates, it is even better to know what kind of flowers were used at the wedding, who the family visited on vacation, and who went to who’s home to play cribbage.

I’ve always had a great affection for newspapers as a resource in genealogical research. I’ve had excellent luck with one branch of my family finding articles about messy lawsuits, courtroom brawls, bitter divorces, successful court appointments, plus the average obituaries and marriage announcements. Of course, the obituaries and marriage announcements provided excellent genealogical data, but the stories were the true treasures. It is the stories that bring life to deceased ancestors making the ancestor seem more real and substantive.

It is because of my love of newspapers that I am particularly excited about World Vital Records’ Wonderbase of the Week. With 226,995 newspaper pages equating to approximately 40 million records in the first set of data released today, searching newspapers for historical data has just become abundantly easier.

I’ve already used the database to learn a great deal about one of my family’s mysterious ancestors. I think every family has at least one mysterious ancestor–one where no one can seem to figure out anything about him. For my family, the mystery ancestor is my great-grandfather, Sherman Edward Danby (or was it Edward Sherman Danby?).

We knew a handful of things about Sherman’s later years, primarily everything after his marriage to Genevra Howes, but we never had been able to pin down his origins. Some family stories suggested he was from England; others suggested Ireland. Some family stories suggested that he fought in the Boer War. Others suggested that he immigrated to America because of some trouble he caused across the Atlantic. Within just an hour of searching the NewspaperARCHIVE database at, I found a number of articles about this mystery man (plus a few about his son and grandson who share his name).

As it turns out, he was a correspondent for a British newspaper in the Boer War; he played soccer for an English soccer team; he was the public relations manager for the Hagenbeck circus, a popular circus at the turn of the century, and because of this job he owned a lioness which slept at the foot of his bed; and later he worked as the theater manager for a theater in St. Louis.

The information I found is great, not because it tells me exactly where Sherman was born or exactly who his parents were, but because it points me in the right direction to finding more information about him. As I pursue research on Sherman, I’ll use those newspaper articles as a guide to help me find the vital records my family has been overlooking over the years.

Leave a comment